I have been dreading this moment.
In fact, this moment has taken on such mythological proportions in my mind that I have asked my uncle to park at the edge of campus rather than driving all the way up to the dormitory, just so that I will have the short walk to Trikru with my belongings to get my shit together. I have asked him to drop me off a couple of hours early so that I will have some time alone to get a grip if that turns out to be necessary. Not that it will be. But just in case.
And Uncle Titus agreed, even though arriving a couple of hours early meant waking up before dawn for the three hour drive to Polis University. He agreed even knowing that officially, technically, really I am not supposed to show up before 11am because the dorms won't be officially, technically, really ready to receive students until then. And now he is walking me across campus, a duffel over one shoulder and a suitcase in one hand, while I keep my eyes on the path and try, for his benefit, not to look like anything is the matter.
Because nothing is the matter. I’ve been to a lot of therapy this summer explicitly to be sure that nothing is the matter. And it’s all going to pay off, because this is my junior year of undergraduate, and nothing is going to get in my way.
If Titus is frustrated by my incessant desire to do things the hard way, he doesn’t comment on it. It helps, I assume, that two duffels and two suitcases makes up the sum total of my worldly possessions with the exception of my books, which are in boxes in Lincoln’s garage. Really there isn’t that much to carry between the two of us. We can make it in just one trip. I remind myself for the hundredth time that this isn’t easy for Titus either, and pick up the pace. The sooner he can get back off campus, the more at ease we will both be.
We round the last corner, and the narrow courtyard between Trikru and Floukru comes into view. I hesitate for only a second, because there under the trees is Lincoln, and that’s my lifeline. I flash a reassuring smile back at Titus and make straight for my best friend.
Lincoln is wearing an old Grounders practice shirt that was probably almost too small on him before it shrank in the wash. His tattoos are peeking out from under sleeves stretched taut over a pair of biceps each easily as big around as my head, and I am pretty sure that I can see every one of his abdominal muscles clearly defined even from here. Typical Lincoln. Which is good news for me, because I am expecting to have my workout buddy back immediately. At this particular moment he is hovering over a clipboard held in Luna’s hands, a studious frown over his face. He never sees me coming. Luna does, but Luna likes me more than she likes Lincoln.
Or she just wants to see his face when I jump on him from behind.
Lincoln roars, and whirls around, and I wrap my limbs around him feeling for all the world like a tiny monkey and cackling in his ear. It only takes a moment before he’s laughing too.
“Commander,” he says by way of greeting as I drop to the ground.
I scrunch up my nose. “I hate that nickname.” I remind him.
“Too late. It stuck. Like… two years ago.”
I punch him in the shoulder. Then, remembering my composure as Titus clears his throat, I offer Luna a polite smile and a hello. She bites back a laugh.
Titus is glancing from me to Triku to the ground in an endless loop, and it’s clear from his posture that he’d rather not set foot inside. I don’t blame him. So we say our goodbyes in the courtyard, a little forced, a little formal, but his hug is fierce and he makes me promise twice that I will call him if I need anything. I think about the fact that he doesn’t live down the street anymore, that he can’t come to my rescue, that maybe that’s for the best after everything that’s happened. I promise him anyway.
Then Lincoln and I are making our way inside, Lincoln carrying the half of my luggage that Titus left behind.
I hesitate in the stairwell.
Lincoln makes it two steps up, pauses, and looks back at me.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this? I can still pull a few strings. They have a couple of openings in Trishanakru.”
I meet his eyes resolutely and say nothing. After a long moment, he begins to trudge up the stairs without another word.
We make our way past the first and second floors to the third, and Lincoln unlocks a door halfway down the hall on the right. Not too far from the bathroom. Not so close that I have to listen to everyone’s shower sex. I’ll take it. This floor was closed all last year for renovations, so the room is technically new, which is a bonus. I pick the bed on the left side and dump my duffel.
Lincoln watches me from the doorway as I do the bare minimum to stake my claim. One suitcase goes in my closet. The other suitcase goes on my desk. Both duffels on my bed. We can get my books from Lincoln’s garage later, or at least as many books as will fit on the tiny dorm cubby shelf and which might be relevant to this semester’s studies. That done, I pause in the middle of the room to take a deep breath. This is home for the next nine months. This is home. I’m home.
Lincoln leans into the doorframe. “Are you okay?” he asks.
No. I don’t look at him. “I’m good.”
I’m early enough that I was hoping to get a cup of coffee with Lincoln before “the horde” arrives on campus, but no such luck. He’s a resident assistant now, and he has important resident assistant things to do. I wonder how he’s planning to be captain of the men’s rugby team, and a resident assistant, and work at the restaurant, and still see his grandfather on weekends, but that’s his business so I don’t question him. I just smile at him, and give him one last bear hug, and make my way through the trees alone.
It’s a beautiful, clear day. Sometimes it feels like Seattle saves its best for these first few weeks of autumn. Everyone else in the northern hemisphere is thinking about winter scarves and pumpkin spice lattes, but not us. August and September are our secret summer in the Northwest. We’re thinking about shorts and hiking boots, late night bonfires, and long afternoons on the water. I'm ready for those late summer concerts that stretch too long into the small hours of the morning. I'm ready for long walks with Lincoln under the stars talking about girls and books and the universe. I'm ready. If I keep saying that I'm ready, it will be true.
There’s a coffee shop on campus not far from the dorms, The Watch, and I make my way there at a leisurely pace, taking in the sounds and smells of the university. This is the last chance I’m going to get to pretend that nothing has changed. There’s the path to the library. There’s the building where I got lost looking for my first class freshman year. Take a left for the sports complex. Take a right for the dining hall.
I order coffee black and nurse it slowly in the corner, just listening to professors and graduate students come and go. Undergrads think the university is dead when we aren’t here, but I know that isn’t true. It’s just calmer. More focused. It has a different feeling to it. The air right now is tense with a thousand quiet anticipations, everyone working towards something, everyone going someplace. I wish I could hold onto that feeling.
That's my favorite thing about the university, really. Airports too, but it wasn't the airport I escaped to on the regular as soon as I was big enough to move through the crowd without someone asking after my parents. There are certain perks to growing up a few short blocks away from Seattle's quirkiest institution, after all. Hell, I did most of my high school coursework at a table in the back corner of this cafe. The first time Titus and I got into a real fight, I snuck into the library here and hid for hours, safe among the books and the soft murmurs of scholars deep in the stacks. The university was a magical place, a shelter, a home away from home, my own secret kingdom.
If I close my eyes, maybe I can make Polis feel like that again.
I'm still sitting there with my eyes closed when I hear the chair across from me slide across the floor. I know who it is without looking, because she has that distinct leather jacket smell hovering around her even though it's got to be at least 80 degrees outside right now.
I open my eyes for the sake of manners, nod hello to Coach Indra, and take another long drag of my coffee. Maybe I should have ordered a large. Maybe I should have asked if they had any pumpkin spice. Coach Indra is indeed wearing her trademark leather jacket, and the trademark stern expression with which I'm pretty sure she was born. Today she's also got a note of concern about her, and I don't like it.
"Lincoln tells me they have an opening in Trishanakru," she says. "Do you want me to put in for a transfer?"
We are talking about dormitories, but really we are talking about rugby. Which means that what Indra is really asking me is whether or not I am still strong enough to be her team captain. I'm wondering when and how she was planning to have this conversation with me if she hadn't run into me this morning. Except that nothing Indra does is ever an accident, and more likely than not, Lincoln gave her the heads up weeks ago that I'd arranged to come to campus ahead of the crowd. Once on campus, I am a creature of habit. Not difficult to find.
I don't smile. "My team is at Trikru," I say. My gaze finds my fingers tracing patterns on the table. "Those are my people."
When she doesn't respond right away, I chance a glance at her face. She's studying me with pursed lips and a furrow in her brow. I wait. I know from long experience that more words will not necessarily get you a more favorable result when it comes to Indra. It doesn't help that I'm honestly not sure what kind of reaction she's hoping to get out of me right now.
Indra shifts in her seat. "We will need to fill some... vacancies. On the roster."
Ah, there we go. The elephant in the room. I meet her eyes. "Yes." And then, when it seems as though she's waiting for something else, "Did you have anyone in mind?"
The corners of Indra's mouth twitch up ever so slightly. "We have a couple of prospects."
And that's it. She doesn't ask me if I'm okay. She doesn't tell me that she's sorry. And in this moment, I love Indra more than I love anyone.
By the time I make my way back to Trikru for official check-in, the horde is in full effect. Lincoln is standing behind a table outside of the front door with a milk crate full of lanyards next to him trying to match everyone with the right room number and keycard. Familiar faces mill about dragging dollies and suitcases and mini fridges into Trikou and Floukru alike. There are some unfamiliar faces too, and I remind myself firmly that this is a good thing. The best way to get past the old is to embrace the new. I tell myself that I’m ready for it.
I step out of the cover of the trees and make my way across the courtyard, eyes straight ahead, resolute. I’m not deaf; I can hear the hushed voices around me as I pass. Commander. I hate that nickname. I pretend I don’t notice them making way for me. It occurs to me only belatedly that I stand out as the only person here not lugging a suitcase or a backpack, which is probably not helping. But no one approaches me outright. And if they are a little uncomfortably respectful of my passing, well, then that’s the way it is. Things will go back to normal. Just give it a little time.
Lincoln digs through the pile of keycards as I approach him, clicking his tongue.
“I should have just given you yours this morning,” he mutters, even though we both know full well that he couldn’t have because the keycards didn’t arrive until the last minute before check-in began. “I swear I just had it in my hand.”
I love Lincoln, but I’m not really listening to him. “Let me look,” I say. “You have other people to help.”
He shrugs. It’s probably against the rules but we both know nobody is going to say anything about it. Lincoln busies himself tidying welcome packets while the next resident lingers shyly just out of conversational reach, and I come around to his side of the table to start digging through the mass of lanyards, wondering who on earth thought it was a good idea to give Lincoln keycards for a 300 person residence hall and not put them in some kind of logical order. Then again, maybe they were in some kind of logical order before Lincoln got his hands on them.
I look up from the milk crate to ask him about it, but something else catches my eye before I can speak. Someone else. She is standing on the curb, welcome packet in one hand, searching the crowd. I think for a moment she's going to look right past me but then, as though startled, her eyes suddenly snap to mine. I feel a shock run through my body and a single thought comes unbidden to my mind: It’s you. Which is particularly strange because I have never seen her before in my life. I have a feeling I would have remembered.
I can’t look away. She has soft blond curls and an inquisitive expression, almost a frown on her face. Then she glances down at the papers in her hand, and turns away from me to say something to her companion. She turns back for a moment, one more split second of eye contact, and she’s gone. Lincoln catches me staring. He’s just finished handing off a welcome packet to someone who happened to need the keycard I happened to be holding in my hand. I don’t even notice when Lincoln takes it.
“Lexa. Earth to Lexa. Commander Woods. Are you even hearing me right now?” He kicks me gently under the table.
“What? Oh. Yes. Sorry. Did you mix these all up with a spoon when they handed them to you, because honestly, Lincoln, they are a mess.”
He smirks, his eyes following mine to a tangle of blond curls in the crowd.
“Do you think she’s an Arker?” he asks.
“Well she doesn’t look like a freshman,” I comment. She has to be one or the other. Polis doesn’t take transfers, has never taken transfers, said we would never take transfers, until our sister school in California lost their accreditation and an exception was made. Of the 300 residents in Trikru this year, 100 are from University of Arkadia. It’s going to be a little weird.
“Well hey,” Lincoln is saying, “if young and impressionable is your type…”
“Lincoln I swear to God if you are talking about sexually objectifying 17yr olds I am going to have your balls in my sock drawer by the end of the day.” I’ve lost sight of the stranger. I’m not sure if that’s a relief or a frustration.
“Well.” He clears his throat. “Speaking of sexually objectifying 17yr olds.”
“I’m not going to like where this is going.”
“Have you met your roommate yet?”
I was handling midterms last semester when I got the email about transfers from Arkadia. Somewhere among the sleepless nights poring over books and the breathless mornings at practice and the quiet hours slipping by in this lecture hall and that, I know I at least saw the announcement. Sister school out in California lost its accreditation. Very sad. Opportunity for some students to transfer to Polis instead. Very cool. Nothing to do with me. Too busy to pay it much mind.
That was before Lincoln let it slip that Trikru was one of the dorms that would be taking in Arkers.
I had feelings about it. Everyone had feelings about it. Polis has a dozen dormitories, each with its own distinct micro culture, and we take the whole thing very seriously. Titus has gone so far as to mention that Grounders are almost a little cultish when it comes to our krus, and I can't honestly disagree with him. Freshmen adjust to their new kru identities pretty easily. A whole group of outsiders coming in with their own traditions and their own university culture to draw from is another thing entirely.
So I've been a little apprehensive. I've been a little worried that Trikru won't feel the same when more than half of its residents are new. I've been concerned that the Arkers won't ever catch on to the way we do things around Polis, and Trikru will never really recover. But right this second as I am taking the dormitory stairs at a walk, two at a time, ducking around suitcases and people who aren't sure where they're supposed to be, I am thinking that maybe that's not a bad thing, because it means that more than half of Trikru doesn't see any reason not to treat me like everyone else.
The good news is that neither does Echo, because Echo still hates me. At least there are some things in this world that will never change.
"Good morning, Commander," she jeers from her doorway. Four doors down. I make a mental note of it, but I also make a point of not acknowledging her until she adds: "There's a man-creature in your room."
Well that's interesting.
Polis dorms are co-ed, but room assignments are not, so despite Echo's warning I am surprised to find that there is indeed a man-creature in my room. For a moment I think someone - not Lincoln, but Lincoln is going to have to deal with it - has made a serious administrative error. Then I realize there are no bags with him, no boxes, and I think perhaps something else is going on. My hand moves to the knife on my belt.
He hasn't heard me come in. He is facing the window, back to the door, hands clasped behind him. I take the opportunity to study him, and catch a spray of freckles across his cheek, a serious expression, dark brown curls. He's dressed in dark jeans and a loose grey shirt with ARKADIA on the back in blue letters. Maybe he's lost. I don't pull the knife, but I don't pull my hand away either. Deep breath, Lexa. Relaxed posture. Neutral expression. The third floor isn't as busy as the floors below, but there are still plenty of people around us.
"You're in my room." It's not the most elegant greeting, but I figure it's more to the point than clearing my throat.
He's talking before he turns to look at me. "Oh, I'm-" His eyes flicker down to my knife and then back up to my face. "I'm Bellamy." He holds out his hand as if to shake mine.
"I think you're lost."
"My sister is your roommate, actually." I still haven't taken his handshake, but he doesn't withdraw his hand.
"So where is she?"
I have looked Bellamy over probably four times without finding any red flags beyond the fact that he is a stranger in my room. I am beginning to feel a little silly. He looks genuinely a little confused, and to his credit, his eyes are moving back and forth between mine rather than back and forth between my face and my knife. I'm not sure if that makes me feel better or worse about the situation.
Eventually Bellamy seems to make up his mind about me. He crosses his arms and leans back against the windowsill. "She's downstairs getting her things. Actually, I was hoping I'd run into you first."
"And why is that?"
He looks uncomfortable. He looks like an uncomfortable person trying desperately to look at ease, and it's interesting to me that asking him about his sister unsettles him more than standing in the doorway with my hand on a literal weapon.
"Octavia's been through a lot," he begins.
I cut him off. Not that I'm not interested in whatever it is that Octavia has been through, but letting Bellamy tell me about it feels like betraying the trust of someone I haven't even met yet. "Whatever she's been through, it's hers to tell. Not yours."
His mouth opens just a little, and one eyebrow quirks. "That's... that's what Clarke said," he grumbles, more to himself than to me. And then Octavia is arriving, and the conversation is over.
She sweeps into the room with a cursory glance at me, and a look for Bellamy that could have melted stone. "Bellamy, what are you doing here? I thought you were helping move Raven's things." And then, before he can answer, she's turned back to me for a handshake. "Octavia. Sorry about my brother; he's overprotective and nosy."
I take the hand she's offered, which means of course taking my hand off of the knife. Bellamy looks absolutely scandalized. "Lexa. It's no problem at all."
I can see why Lincoln, who is usually so straight faced about women, was asking me about her in the courtyard. She's objectively pretty, with long dark hair and flashing green eyes, but there is something else about her that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's the firm handshake, or maybe it's something about the way she moves through the room. But it's something.
Octavia narrows her eyes at her brother. "Clarke gave me the keys, so if you're done harassing my roommate..."
The trip to the parking lot and back is long enough to offer me a few minutes of peace alone in my room. I spend it sitting on the edge of my bare mattress, turning the knife over and over in my hands, waiting for my heartbeat to come back down. I'm home. I'm okay. I'm ready for this.
Those are the same words I whisper to myself when I wake that night with a racing heart and the phantom smell of smoke in my nostrils. I say them over and over and over in the half light that filters in through the window. Someone is playing guitar in the courtyard below. I can hear laughter, a little bit of bad singing, an engine starting in the parking lot, Octavia snoring softly across the room. I'm home. I'm okay. I'm ready for this.
I reach onto my nightstand for the knife and tuck it under my pillow. Only then, with my fingers resting on the handle, do I fall back asleep.
This story is pure self-indulgent university AU ridiculousness from start to finish. It's primarly a Clexa story, but other ships will definitely make an appearance. Polis University is based (loosely) off of UC Berkeley, located in Seattle, and full of shenanagins and dormitory rivalry. Watch the notes for commentary on the story and setting, or find me on tumblr at Oreoambitions! Shoutout to KingLunaris for doing some beta reading and giving me the confidence to post :)
Chapter 2: Wonderwall - Clarke
I was originally planning to update this once a week on Tuesdays, but this is done early and I'm an impatient bean.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Clarke, I swear to God, if you don't let me out of this car soon I'm going to pee right here in your back seat."
I fix Octavia with my best "don't you dare" face in the rearview mirror, but it doesn't last; she's slumped against the back window with such an impressive scowl that I have to smile. After a moment, she gives me a sheepish smile back.
Bellamy shifts in the passenger's seat. "We're almost there."
And we are. It has been a long couple of days driving up from Los Angeles, in no small part because Octavia wanted to take the scenic route. I don't blame her. We drove up the coast for two days at a leisurely pace before we turned inland for Portland last night, a drive that we likely could have made in a single shot if we'd been willing to take a more direct route, but c'est la vie. Octavia wanted to see the sights, and if I'm being honest, so did I. This morning we bundled ourselves into the car at the crack of dawn and, at Bellamy's request, stopped only briefly for coffee and provisions. We have been driving since.
But we're on surface roads now, having successfully skirted the edge of Seattle proper, and according to the GPS, Polis University is just ahead. Bellamy and Octavia have been wearing near identical expressions of studied indifference since we got off the freeway, but I know them both too well to be fooled.
"How almost there are we?" Octavia asks. "Because I wasn't kidding; I've had to go for like an hour."
Bellamy sighs. "We're almost there."
I expect Octavia to make a retort, but instead she lets out a gasp. "I think I see it!" And suddenly she's sitting bolt upright, one hand on the window, staring at something in the distance. Bellamy lets out an aggrieved sigh. I glance left, but all I can see from the driver's seat is more trees.
"It's the watchtower," Octavia says. It's impossible to miss the note of excitement in her voice. Of all the transfers from Arkadia, I suspect she's done the most research on our new school, or at least the most research on campus life. And why shouldn't she? The rest of us have a year or more under our belts at Arkadia already. We have some ideas about what to expect from the college experience. Octavia is coming into this brand new.
"It's a bell tower, O," Bellamy says. He doesn't duck his head to look at it. "Every other university has one."
I hear Octavia mutter something that sounds suspiciously like "turd potato" from the back seat.
People say that Polis is in Seattle much in the same way that they describe half of Southern California as being in Los Angeles. The university is outside of the city proper, but not close to anything with a name you'd recognize if you weren't from here. And we are most definitely not from here. We're somewhere northeast of the city, and I am just beginning to wonder if maybe I've missed a turn when the suburb surrounding Polis pops into view as if out of nowhere, prompting Octavia to press her nose against the glass and Bellamy to close his eyes with another sigh.
The road to the university winds from one side of town to the other. It isn't far, but traffic slows perceptibly as we approach campus. I pull off at a gas station despite Bellamy's protests, just in case Octavia isn't kidding about peeing in my jeep, and then it's just me and Bellamy watching the cars trundle by in the morning light.
I look at him out of the corner of my eye. He's wearing his Arker practice shirt, because of course he is, because he's my best friend but he's also confrontational and stupid and I don't think a day has gone by that he hasn't complained about having to transfer. I get it. Arkadia was home for me too, but I've left all my Arker gear back in California where it belongs.
Bellamy drums his fingers against his leg. "It wasn't supposed to be like this."
"I know." And then, when he doesn't quite look at me, "She's going to be okay. She's excited, Bell. Don't you remember what a big deal it was, moving in freshman year?"
"Don't you remember how much we messed up freshman year? I was supposed to know the ropes. I was supposed to be there for her, to help her get through college. Now I get one year, and that's it, and I have to just leave her here."
We've had this conversation what feels like a hundred times before. We're just following the script. "Bellamy, she gets to go to college with her big brother for a whole year. That's a big deal. A lot of people don't get to have that experience."
"Octavia isn't like a lot of people. She needs more support than they do."
I could argue with him. We could talk about campus resources. We could talk about how it's a good thing for Octavia that she's going straight into Polis instead of adjusting to campus life in Arkadia and then having to move. We could talk about how in Arkadia she would always have been in his shadow. I could remind him that Octavia is going to be a legal adult in just a couple of weeks and that it's probably time she starts to develop a little independence. I could even say that maybe it's for the best that Bellamy can only be physically here for the one year because otherwise I don't know if he's ever going to learn to let go and live his own life. But I don't say any of those things, because he's my best friend, and it's our first day at a new school, and I don't want to fight. So I say the only thing I can say.
"I'll still be here to look out for her after you graduate. She'll have extra support all the way through her sophomore year. And by then she'll have friends to look out for her too; you'll see."
"I know. But she's my sister. My responsibility."
I've been watching him obsess over this all summer. He's already made post-graduation commitments in Southern California on the assumption that it would keep him close to Octavia for all four years of her undergraduate studies at Arkadia, but of course that was before Arkadia closed its doors. The trouble is that Bellamy Blake is not the kind of person who breaks a commitment, and he's not the kind of person who leaves his sister behind either. He's been feeling the tension between two contradictory behavioral mandates for months, and there is nothing I can do about it. Even if there were, I've been busy handling contradictory behavioral mandates of my own.
"I could ask her roommate to keep an eye on her for me."
"Bellamy." I turn sideways in the driver's seat to fix him with my sternest, most serious expression. "Do not. You'll make it awkward. Whatever Octavia wants to disclose to her roommate, that's her business. You don't get to take that away from her."
Bellamy looks like he's going to argue, his shoulders tight, his lips parted. Then he turns away. Octavia emerges from the gas station with an armful of Reese's, half of which she deposits into Bellamy's lap as soon as she gets the door open.
"Second breakfast," she says with a shrug, a peanut butter cup already in her mouth.
It isn't until we're back on the road that I realize Bellamy never agreed not to meddle in Octavia's roommate situation.
Polis has a dozen dormitories, arranged in clusters and scattered around the edges of campus. Our little group has been assigned to Trikru, which is among the larger dorms on the east side. It's a sprawling building that looks like it can't decide whether it's a dormitory or a camp lodge, all wood paneling and shingled windows, wrapped halfway around the narrow courtyard it shares with Floukru. There's a crowd milling about between the courtyard and the parking lot, and I stand at the edge of it for a long moment letting the sounds and the smells of our new home away from home wash over me. I can understand Bellamy's anxiety about leaving Arkadia behind, but from where I'm standing, a fresh start in Polis is a golden opportunity.
The line for check-in is long and a little hectic. Bellamy is busy firing off messages to other Arkers to find out who's made it here already and whether they have their room assignments yet. Octavia's eyes are on the watchtower that looms over campus. I'm texting Raven, partly to give my hands something to do and partly because I genuinely want a little reassurance that she survived the drive up the coast with her arch nemesis.
Clarke: Are you and Murphy around here someplace?
But almost before I've finished typing, Raven is getting in touch with me.
The Other Best Friend: Dude our new dorm looks like a giant treehouse.
I have to chuckle because honestly it sort of does.
Clarke: Is that a yes? Where are you?
The Resident Assistant who checks us in introduces himself to us as Lincoln. He's got a quiet demeanor about him, and a decidedly non-threatening posture despite his obvious interest in Octavia, but I'm nevertheless concerned that Bellamy is going to rip his eyes out of his head before he can find our key cards in the mess of lanyards he has on the table. I give Bellamy what I hope is a calming smile. Octavia hasn't paid Lincoln much attention, which is probably the only thing that prevents Bellamy from projecting all of his anxieties onto our new RA and getting expelled for assault on day one.
We do an awkward hover at the edge of the parking lot, hands full of welcome packets and lanyards and sweaters we don't need. Bellamy says something about figuring out the order of operations for unloading the jeep. He will be rooming on the second floor, but Octavia and I will not. I can see that it grates on him, that he's talking out loud about the logistics of unpacking mostly to cover up his discomfort with that extra degree of separation. My phone is vibrating in my pocket.
The Other Best Friend: I'm inside. Murphy wants me to change rooms.
The Other Best Friend: They have me on the third floor. No elevator.
Bellamy is halfway through a sentence I didn't catch when he sees me frowning at my phone. Raven has been doing better, has actually been doing almost well, but the fact of the matter is that she still struggles with stairs. She's had her left leg in a brace since the accident last year. The accident we aren't allowed to talk about. The accident with Murphy, who as we speak is probably red in the face shouting down a Resident Assistant about moving Raven to a more accessible room, and who probably hasn't considered the fact that Raven might prefer it if he did not.
"They have Raven on the third floor with Octavia and I," I tell Bellamy. "There's no elevator."
Bellamy raises his eyebrows. "Can they move her?"
"I think she'd rather they didn't."
Bellamy lets out a chuckle. If there's one thing any of us know about Raven, it's the depth of her pride. She's going to live on the third floor even if she has to drag everything she owns up those stairs one stupid t-shirt at a time.
Clarke: Do you need an intervention?
Clarke: Do you want help carrying your things?
The Other Best Friend: An extra pair of hands would be stellar. Where you at? I'm coming to you.
Unloading the jeep will have to wait. I do a quick scan of the crowd and then, failing to spot Raven on the first go around, turn to Bellamy.
"Bell, I know you hate him but-"
"But can I go stop Murphy from making things more humiliating for Raven?"
"Yes, that. I'll stay with Octavia."
Octavia rolls her eyes, but we both know those are the magic words if Bellamy is going to leave her side long enough to keep Murphy from making a scene. I try not to dwell on the irony of sending Bellamy to stop someone from meddling in someone else's rooming situation while I do another scan of the crowd, slow and careful this time, and then something catches in my throat and my eyes move, unbidden, back to the check-in table.
Lincoln was alone when he checked us in, but now he is accompanied by a slender girl with long dark hair pulled half back and the most curiously intense gaze I have ever seen. And she is looking at me. I can see the way the crowd around us is aware of her: the resident checking in with Lincoln stands a little to one side; the check-in line stays a little further back from the table than before; people nod their heads in her direction as they pass. It's subtle, but it's not nothing. She's someone.
With her eyes fixed on mine, I have a funny feeling that she's not only someone at Polis; she's also someone to me. Only I can't place her.
"Octavia." I nudge her with my foot. She's got her nose in her welcome packet, poring over material that most freshmen are probably going to drop in the recycling bin unread right about the time midterm season hits. "Do we know her from somewhere?"
Octavia follows my line of sight and narrows her eyes. Lincoln's companion is wearing jeans even though it's warm enough outside that my Southern California ass is wondering if I've packed enough shorts to survive Seattle. She's got a button-up with sleeves rolled to the elbows and a pair of glasses peeking out of the breast pocket. She's still watching me. I look away.
Octavia shrugs. "I don't know, Clarke. Did you know any huge nerds at Arkadia?" And then, "Oh, I see Raven. Let's go."
Raven Reyes and I don't go way back like Bellamy and I do. Only two years, maybe three, but I don't like to think about it carefully enough to nail down precisely how long it's been because that means thinking about Finn, and Finn is forbidden territory. He would be forbidden territory between Raven and I even if it weren't for everything that happened last year, because we were both dating him when we met. It was a case of spectacular miscommunication. An excellent story for some time when thinking about Finn doesn't make me want to cry, or throw up, or both, if such a time ever comes again. The important thing is that in the years since that first confrontation, Raven has carved a place for herself in my heart that rivals Bellamy's.
Now she throws herself into my arms in the courtyard with a delighted laugh before turning to gesture at the whole of Trikru.
"Our treehouse awaits! Like seriously, who built this school?"
Octavia and I laugh with her, and I see Octavia take in for the hundredth time the dorms and the watchtower the heavily wooded path that leads deeper into campus. Then she turns back to Raven with a serious expression. Even Octavia can be counted on to put in a little hard work when it's Raven doing the asking.
It's going to take us several trips to unload Raven's things from her hatchback, and they're going to be slow. It'd go more quickly if she weren't insisting on carrying as much as she possibly can, but it's Raven. It takes a single glance for Octavia and I to come to an unspoken agreement about not suggesting that she accept a little more help, but after the second trip I venture back to Raven's car by myself on the pretense of giving her and Octavia a moment to make up the bed. I don't mind this taking as long as it takes, but Octavia keeps fiddling with her keycard and it's giving me the idea that she's anxious to get to unpacking her own room. That or she's anxious to get away from Raven's roommate, Echo, which is also reasonable. There's something unsettling about her that I can't quite put my finger on.
I'm halfway down the hall when I catch Bellamy's voice and pause. He's assigned to a room on the second floor, not the third, but I definitely just heard him introduce himself to someone. I take a few cautious steps and then freeze. Bellamy's standing in the middle of an empty room, hand extended as though for a handshake, and his eyes are fixed on a slender girl in front of him. A girl in jeans and a button-up with sleeves rolled to the elbows. A girl who is fingering the knife on her belt. Neither of them is moving.
"I think you're lost," she says.
If I weren't already holding my breath, the sound of her voice would make me stop breathing. I feel time stutter around me. I know her from somewhere, somewhere...
And then Bellamy is speaking again, and I remember that I am standing in a dormitory hallway watching my best friend start what is probably trouble with a stranger who, while visibly relaxed, does not look like she will hesitate to draw that knife if Bellamy gives her a reason. And it's Bellamy, who already looked like he was spoiling for a fight when we checked in. So he might give her the reason she's looking for.
"My sister is your roommate, actually."
"So where is she?"
She's in Raven's room putting a fitted sheet on Raven's mattress because she's under the impression that her brother has gone to stop Murphy from doing exactly the kind of stupid thing that Bellamy is doing right now. She is expecting him to come back and help us unload the rest of Raven's things. She's several doors down. I almost say it all out loud, but there is a more elegant solution at my disposal, and it's a solution which will also save me the trouble of explaining to Octavia what her brother has been up to. I hurry back down the hall, digging for my keys as I go.
I'm through the door and the keys are in Octavia's hands almost before I've gotten any words out of my mouth. "You should start bringing your things up; I'll take care of Raven."
Octavia stares at me, moving more slowly off the bed than I'd expect for a 17yr old abruptly handed temporary freedom. "Okay... Are you sure you don't want my help?"
And I get where she's coming from, but frankly I am less concerned about getting anything done in a timely manner than I am about the kind of trouble Bellamy may have gotten himself into in the last thirty seconds or may get himself into in the next. If there were time to fill Raven in, she would agree with me. Not that Bellamy is usually the type to get into trouble, but then, Bellamy isn't usually wound as tightly as he has been these past few months.
"Octavia." I look her dead in the eye. "You should stop by your room first."
She moves warily towards the door. "Why?" And then, before I have a chance to reply, she says "Bellamy."
In the end, it takes only a few trips to get everything up to Raven's room, in no small part because Murphy shows up to lend a hand. He doesn't say a word, and he avoids eye contact with me, but he's been acting that way since the accident so I'm almost used to it. Raven's roommate has disappeared somewhere along the way, but Raven assures us that she doesn't mind hanging out by herself for a while, and we make plans to meet up again for dinner. In Raven's words, "No Arker is going into Grounder territory alone today."
I notice two things about my room when I finally arrive. The first is that it's directly across the way from Octavia's, which I know even though the door is closed because by the time I get there Octavia has fixed a whiteboard to the door with the words "Lexa and Octavia" written in her neat handwriting across the top.
Lexa. I say her name just to see how it feels in my mouth and then, realizing what I've done, I turn almost angrily back to my own door, fumbling for my keycard.
The second thing worth noting about my room is that it's still empty; I appear to be at least temporarily roommateless. I turn in a slow circle, taking in the open closets, the narrow beds, the desks crowded under the window. Then I throw my welcome packet and my phone down on the bed on the right. After a pause, I throw myself down on it too. There's no hurry.
The sound of voices and laughter drifts in through the window as I close my eyes. Someone runs down the hallway, calling out. Downstairs, Bellamy is unpacking his own things. Somewhere in Trikru, I can almost guarantee Monty and Jasper are getting into some kind of mischief. Harper is at the airport waiting for her ride.
It's all falling into place. We are going to be okay after all. My little tribe of Arkers, my Arkadian family, they've all made it to this strange new home of ours.
All except one.
I push the thought out of my mind and pull myself back to my feet. Maybe unloading the jeep can't wait after all. I ferry my belongings up the stairs one bag at a time, drawing the process out for so long that the crowd in the courtyard has nearly dissipated by the time I take my last trip downstairs.
I can't sleep that night. My roommate never arrives, which I tell myself isn't a big deal, but the truth is I haven't spent a night alone for months, and now I can't stand the silence. Not that it's really truly silent. Through my open window I can hear the distant sound of someone playing the guitar. There are voices in the trees. There are footsteps on the floors below us. But it's silent in my room, and perfectly still, as though the world were moving on without me.
I've felt like that twice before. The first time was when my father died. And the second...
I should sleep. Trikru orientation is tomorrow, and then the beginning of university welcome week activities, and I've promised Raven that we'll take a walk on campus to find all the buildings where our classes will take place this semester. I know Octavia is going to be hammering on my door for breakfast at 7am because she promised me as much at dinner. And I should go to the bookstore, start my reading, get ahead before classes begin because I can't afford to ever fall behind if I expect to keep my place at Polis. I'm going to need my rest. But the silence in my room is deafening, and I feel like I can't breathe.
I'm halfway down the stairs before I realize where I'm going, and then I break out of Trikru almost at a run. In the courtyard someone is shouting the lyrics to Wonderwall over his half tuned guitar while onlookers laugh and cheer and mumble the words along with him, and as I pass them I catch the unmistakable smells of cigarettes and cheap beer. I make it to the parking lot, into the front seat of the jeep, and slam the door. And then I don't know what I'm going to do. I just know that it's even quieter here than it was in my room, and suddenly it almost feels as though Finn is in the passenger's seat breaking the news to me all over again.
Clarke, I'm sick.
I jam the keys into the ignition, start the engine, put the radio on. Wonderwall comes out of my speakers and I try to laugh at the coincidence but it comes out as a sob. And then I'm driving too fast on a dark road in an unfamiliar city, and the radio is too loud, and I don't know where I'm going, and it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that I don't stop.
Some editorial thoughts:
- I think I've probably overestimated the number of students reasonably housed in a three-story dormitory, but it's a fic, so we're going to just pretend that I didn't. I reserve the right to go back and adjust those numbers to something more sensible at a later date.
- Ngl I spent about twenty minutes on Google learning the difference between a button-up and a button-down.
- The fact that these two chapters cover the same timespan is coincidence. That's not usually going to be the case.
Find me on Tumblr at Oreoambitions!
Chapter 3: Little Coincidences - Lexa
The chapter in which Clarke and Lexa finally meet face to face.
Thank you all so much for the kudos and especially for the comments! Find me on Tumblr at oreoambitions to bug me about the fic or share in some shenanigans.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I've never had a first morning at Polis before. Not really.
I remember that first night in the dormitories freshman year like it was yesterday. I remember staring at the ceiling and listening to my roommate sleeping on the other side of that narrow room and wondering if I would always find it difficult to lie still on such a stiff mattress. I remember that the strangest thing about it was how it wasn't strange at all. I was out of my uncles' house for the first time, and that should have been a big deal. It should have been, but it wasn't.
And I remember that I woke up the next morning and pulled on my running shorts like any other morning and ran that familiar loop around campus and into the surrounding suburb, 3.2 miles if you don't take any detours, only instead of starting and ending at my uncles' house I ran past it partway through. Uncle Gus waved to me from the kitchen window like nothing had changed at all, and I waved back. And that's the way it was every day until the day the world came crashing down around me.
Today is nothing like that.
I wake up before my alarm goes off and disable it before it has a chance to shatter the silence of the morning. I don't know yet whether Octavia is a heavy sleeper, and I'm not in a hurry to make an impression as the inconsiderate early riser. This is the first time I've ever shared a room with someone who isn't up with the sun like I am.
I'm in shorts and a sports bra and out the door as quickly and quietly as I can, checking twice that I have my room key before letting the latch click behind me. Then I'm down the stairs and into the dawn at a brisk pace before the cold can change my mind. Even in our secret summer there is a bitter chill to the air in the morning, a reminder of the closeness of the sea and a promise of the coming autumn. I step in time to my breathing and try to forget everything else.
Only I can't forget. Because today when I get to the house, Uncle Gus isn't there to wave at me as I pass by. Someone else's car sits in the driveway. Someone else's laughter floats through the kitchen window. It isn't my uncles' home anymore, and it isn't mine.
I pick up the pace.
By the time I get back to Trikru I've worked up a heavy sweat. I force myself to take a few extra minutes for a bodyweight routine and a stretch in the courtyard, and then climb the stairs with wooden legs. It's been a long time since I've felt fatigue like this after a recreational run, and for a moment I wonder if I've gone too hard, but then, practice won't pick up in earnest for a few more weeks and I can't wait that long to feel this burn. I need it now.
Trikru is still asleep, and suddenly I am afraid that my breathing is too loud, my steps too heavy, but Octavia is awake when I let myself back into our room. She's sitting on the edge of her unmade bed, dressed for the day, hunched over her cellphone, but she looks up when I enter and I see both eyebrows raise.
"Morning," I say.
"Morning," she replies. I can hear the question in her voice, but it's not until I've got my shoes off and have begun digging around for my shower caddy that she asks it. "What are you doing?"
I frown. "Taking a shower."
"No, I mean..." She gestures vaguely in my direction.
I stare at her for a moment, and then down at myself, looking for a clue. Shorts. Sports bra. Neon orange socks. "Running?"
"Like, for fun?" Octavia's eyebrows go up a little higher.
She looks so skeptical that I almost laugh. "For training," I tell her, slinging my towel over my shoulder. Suddenly I'm glad I did my pushups outside despite the chill. "I'm on the rugby team."
Now that I think about it, this is the first time I've roomed with someone who was not also on the rugby team. I wonder if anyone has told Octavia that all of Grounder Rugby lives in Trikru. I wonder if anyone has told her about our alliance with Floukru and the rivalry we have with the other dorms. I'm probably the person who is supposed to lead her through it all, show her the ropes, except that I'm not a person anyone should be following anywhere off the rugby pitch. I force a smile and turn towards the door.
"I like your tattoos," she says.
Octavia is gone when I get back from my shower, and that's for the best, because I'm not in the mood to ask her if it's okay to change in front of her or if I'm going to have to do the awkward modesty shuffle indefinitely. I take advantage of the extra solitude to compose myself in the mirror on the back of the door. I'm home. I'm okay. I'm ready for this.
It's the first day of Welcome Week, which means a busy day full of nothing at all. Maybe I'll get a chance to steal into the campus bookstore so that I can get a head start on my coursework, but first before anything I've promised Anya a breakfast date, because this summer is the longest we've gone without seeing one another since we met at the Trikru luncheon two years ago. I pull on jeans, a button-up, the Grounder sweater Uncle Titus bought me in my freshman year. My knife slides into place against my hip. I'm okay. I'm ready for this. I stare at my reflection for a long moment before I leave.
Anya lives in Olympia, which isn't far, but it isn't close either. Officially she misses move-in every year because it's right around her mother's birthday, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that Anya has a chronic distaste for crowds. She would probably miss all of Welcome Week if she could, but she's got a fiercer Grounder spirit than anyone I've ever known, and her commitment to Trikru is second to none. In the end, that's enough to convince Anya to put up with other humans en masse for a little while.
But before the rest of Trikru has any claim to her, I get to have her all to myself. I wait for her out in the parking lot. I hear her before I see her, and I can't help the smile that tugs at the corner of my mouth as the sound of her beat up old hatchback carries up the road. I'm ready at the curb, hands buried in my sweater pockets, when she finally pulls in. For a moment after she cuts the engine I feel anxiety pooling in my stomach, because maybe things won't be the same between us anymore, and then I won't know what to do.
But they are the same. Anya slides out of the driver's seat and directly into my arms, and suddenly I am eighteen years old again standing outside of Trikru after my first official Grounders practice covered in mud and sweat, all scraped up and out of breath when Anya pulls me in for a hug for the first time. I'm so proud of you.
Today she holds me a little tighter, draws it out a little longer, and we are both shaking a little when she holds me at arms length to get a look at me.
"Darling," she says with a stern expression, looking me up and down. Then she breaks into a lazy smile and claps me on the shoulder. "So you're an upperclassman now. Do you feel like a proper scholar yet?"
I recognize my own words from last August when Anya was starting her own junior year, and smile back at her. "So you're a senior now. Do you feel ready to take on the world yet?"
"Oh God, no. Do you think if I petitioned to change my major they'd let me stay for another couple of years?"
We laugh together, and in this moment, we are the only two people in the whole world, and everything is just as it always was, just as it was always supposed to be. Anya locks the car, announcing that she has an urgent need for "the most underappreciated avocado toast in all of Washington" before there's any chance she'll be ready to start taking her things up to Trikru. Besides which it's still early, and there is a nonzero chance her roommate is still asleep. We walk the winding path deeper into campus, arm in arm, talking about nothing at all. Neither one of us has explicitly mentioned a breakfast location, but we both know we are headed for The Watch out of long habit. I fall in beside her, matching her rolling step, and nod along as she complains about the unbelievable tedium of a summer spent with her younger sisters and away from her Grounder family.
I'm home. I'm okay. I'm ready for this. And for the first time since I got here, I really mean it.
Anya does indeed order the avocado toast. I order a mess of eggs and probably too much coffee and then we settle into our favorite window table. I love it because from here you can see the watch tower and the path to the library and little copse of aspens between the cafe and the Journalism building. Anya loves it because from here she can see both doors and the register, so she always knows who's here. I've long since learned not to ask Anya why that kind of thing matters to her.
Breakfast is easy until it isn't. Until we exhaust questions about Anya's summer, and her family, the books we've both been reading (Anya has discovered Milan Kundera, to my absolute delight), and the classes we're taking this semester. And then there is an empty space where Anya might have asked about my summer but doesn't, because we both know what my summer looked like. She was with me for the first funeral. She texted me about the next two, but I didn't answer, because what could I say? I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. She knows about the therapy because when I finally did answer her it was only to tell her that I was getting help. She knows Uncle Titus paid a lot of money to cover everything up with Polis. She knows I'm not supposed to talk about it.
So we don't talk about it. Except that Anya and I have never been particularly good at playing by the rules when we're together, and the silence between us over our third cups of coffee suddenly feels as meaningful as all the words we might otherwise have shared. And then Anya is scanning the room, looking everywhere except at me, and that's when she says it.
"I miss Aden. I know I shouldn't. But I do."
My fingers tighten around my coffee cup. There are the words that I'm supposed to say. The official story. But Anya is the only one in the world who knows that the official story isn't completely true, and I'm not about to start lying to her now.
"I miss him too," I whisper.
And then she does look at me.
Life has a funny way of lining up little coincidences. Anya was my next door neighbor at Trikru in my freshman year, and my mentor that first year with Grounder Rugby. Then she was my roommate in my sophomore year, which was for the best, because there was no separating us and it would have been a nuisance for any additional parties. And now here we are in my junior year, and Anya will be living directly across the hall. It's like the universe approves of our status as platonic soulmates. It's little things like these that make me appreciate the universe in spite of everything.
We fetch Anya's keycard from Lincoln, who protests the hour of our intrusion even though it's already after 9am by the time we're knocking on his door, and then we pile Anya's belongings into our arms, each attempting to carry more than the other until it's almost ridiculous.
"So I was thinking," Anya says as we trudge up the first flight of stairs, "you know how we have that match-up with Floukru next week, right?"
"Ah, yes. The annual neighborly trouncing. How could I forget it?"
"Well, since it's four to a team this year, I was wondering if your room would like to team up with my room. You know, get to know one another a little better, help the babies get to know Polis, all that jazz."
My lips quirk up a little at the phrase 'all that jazz' but I shake my head. "What if your roommate sucks?" I tease. "I don't know if I want to run with some freshie who's never done a lap." I think about Octavia's incredulity about my morning run and cringe a little internally. It's Trikru tradition that roommates compete together in the interkru competition of the year, so I can tease Anya all I like, but the fact of the matter is that I'm saddled with exactly the kind of person I just described no matter who else we team up with. I wonder somewhat cynically if this is going to be the year Floukru finally breaks Trikru's winning streak. After all, Floukru didn't have to take on any Arkers in addition to their usual gaggle of new students.
Anya nudges me with her shoulder, nearly putting me off my feet. "I ran with you when you were just some freshie."
"I was never 'just' some freshie," I grumble, but I take her point.
Our conversation comes to an end at the top of the second flight of stairs until we are dumping Anya's things in the hallway right outside our doors. For a moment I think about popping my head into my room to see if Octavia is there, to invite her to meet Anya, to try to make a connection. The Trikru model is every upperclassman with an underclassman, to foster a sense of mentorship in the community, although this year it seems to be something closer to every upperclassman with an underclassman or an Arker. I suppose that makes sense too, even if I don't like it. Octavia's integration into the community is at least partially my responsibility, and that's by design.
But I don't open my door. We have the big Trikru luncheon today; that will be more than enough connecting for me.
The sound of Anya's door unlocking snaps me out of my thoughts. I hold it open for her while she passes through with a plastic bin in her arms, and from over her shoulder I catch a glimpse of a tangle of blond curls at the window. My heartrate picks up without my say-so as Anya's roommate turns around.
I don't hear the two of them introduce themselves to one another. Don't realize that I'm lingering in the doorway until Anya fixes me with that you're-being-rude frown I haven't seen for almost two years, and I get it together enough to grab a duffel and come all the way inside. Anya's roommate has fixed me with a curious gaze, her mouth slightly open. From this distance I can see what I could not in the parking lot: dazzling dark blue eyes, sharp features, the delicate line of her lips.
"Lexa," she breathes.
I raise both my eyebrows. "Have we met?" Because that would explain a lot of things about the strange familiarity rushing through me right now, but I can't place her. My heartrate won't come down. There's a strange warmth in my chest, and I hate it.
"No. Your roommate is my best fr- well, my brother. I mean - wait- my brother's - no.... Let me try this again." And to my absolute amazement she actually closes her eyes, turns around, and takes a deep breath before turning back to me. Anya and I exchange a glance. "Okay. Your roommate is my brother's best friend. I mean my best friend's brother. I mean. Damn it! Best. Friend's. Sister."
"You're best friends with Bellamy, and he's my roommate's brother."
Anya and I exchange another glance. "Best friends with Bellamy," I repeat coolly. "I can't say that really recommends your character."
The roommate's eyebrows shoot up, and her mouth falls open a little more with surprise. I don't know why I'm being difficult. She's flustered. To be perfectly honest, I'm flustered. I'm just doing a better job of hiding it. We stare at one another for a moment too long, and then two moments, and I'm just beginning to wonder how this standoff is going to end when Anya deliberately drops her plastic bin with a loud thud and we both startle.
"Well then," Anya says. "Now we've all met one another properly, I'd like to get unpacked. Clarke, do you mind if I prop the door open?"
Clarke. I mouth the name and then, feeling stupid, spin on my heel to fetch things in from the hallway. I'm burning. A little bit with shame, a little bit with frustration, a little bit with something else I can't name. I'm thinking about those dark blue eyes. I'm thinking about the dark blue of Costia's eyes. I'm feeling the phantom prickle of smoke in my throat. I strip my Grounder sweater off and roll my sleeves up to the elbow, and I don't look at Clarke even once as we begin to unpack Anya's things.
At least, I don't look at her directly. I take in the soft blue of the comforter she's thrown over her bed, and the ragged bear propped up next to her pillow. A photograph on her desk of a smiling older couple. A photograph hung by the window of herself, Bellamy, and another girl I don't recognize. A Grounder jacket with the tags still attached draped over the back of the chair.
And the sketches. Landscapes and portraits, all in pencil, covering the wall beside her bed. A coastline rendered in perfect detail. Octavia's face with the nose all scrunched up and a butterfly in her hair. A pair of elderly hands wrapped around a mug. A boy with shoulder length hair and a crooked smile. A vase of flowers on a kitchen table, dishes piled in the sink in the background, an open cupboard full of spices. I'm almost certain Clarke catches me looking, but I don't say anything. I don't know what to say.
I'm going to have to say something to her eventually. Anya pitches the idea of teaming up with Octavia and I for the event with Floukru, and while Clarke is visibly unclear on what exactly Anya means, she agrees. She even flashes me a smile. I take the opportunity to flip the switch from mildly hostile to cautiously friendly and smile back.
It's not her fault that her eyes are the same dark blue as Costia's. It's not her fault that she feels strangely familiar to me in a way that makes me uncomfortable. She's just an Arker trying to figure out her life. I'm just a Grounder trying to figure out mine. There's no reason we shouldn't be friends.
I just need to grow up a little. It's funny how that's always true.
The Trikru luncheon takes place in the dining hall. Last year we held it in the student lounge attached to the dormitory itself, but that was with the third floor under renovation, and now that we're at full capacity there's no way we are all going to eat comfortably in that tiny space. So it's with a mild sense of nostalgia for the Welcome Week of my freshman year that I walk with Octavia to the place where I had my own first Trikru luncheon. I can't help smiling at the wonder in her face as we walk.
"Do you not have trees in California?" I tease.
Octavia looks at me with a grave expression. "Not in Southern California, not like this. I'd never seen a redwood before we drove up here. And it's all so... so... green!"
I chuckle. "It's not green in Southern California?"
Octavia shrugs. "I mean, we do have lawns."
That's not the kind of green we're talking about and we both know it. I gaze around the wooded walkway and try to imagine what it would be like to be here if I'd never seen a redwood before. Maybe a little overwhelming.
"Well, we're a temperate rainforest up here. Lots of rain, lots of green, lots of trees."
"I love it." Octavia's eyes wander for the hundredth time to the watch tower. It's a huge structure, visible from almost anywhere on campus, and from the top you can see the whole university. It's one of my favorite places, but that's such a cliche that I've never said it out loud. Still, I love the sound of the watchtower bell ringing out the hour. I love the view from the top. I love sitting outside with my back against the tower for shelter from the bustle of the afternoon.
"You know you can go up to the observation deck if you want," I tell Octavia. "You don't need a ticket or anything, just your student ID."
"Really?" Octavia's whole face brightens and I almost laugh. "I'd really love to go."
"Well then, we should. Everyone goes at least once - it's like a rite of passage. But wait until after Welcome Week; it'll be crowded right now."
She nods. And then she blurts out, "Do they really light a beacon on top for game days?"
Then I finally do laugh. "Yes. For every varsity sport. It's a Grounder tradition. You can see the light from anywhere on campus."
"Wow," she breathes.
And at that moment I decide that I'm fond of her, even if she is some freshie who's never run a lap, even if she is technically an Arker. As far as I'm concerned, she's just another Grounder in the making.
We find seats near the temporary speaking platform that has been erected in the dining hall, at a table with Clarke and Anya, Bellamy and one of Lincoln's teammates, Echo and a girl I recognize from the photo Clarke has hanging next to her window. Echo is not inconspicuous about not wanting to talk to me, going so far as to physically angle her chair in the other direction. This is enough to pique the interest of Clarke's friend, who introduces herself as Raven. We make small talk in our little group, with the exception of Echo who says nothing at all, and Bellamy who says very little and looks like he wishes he were sitting between Octavia and I.
Welcome Week officially begins when Lincoln and Niylah step up to the microphone to start a chant of "Triku! Triku! Triku!" through the hall until the tables and windows are shaking with our voices and with the pounding of fists and feet. Even some of the Arkers get into it. Clarke is among them, and I feel a warmth settle in my chest as she roars alongside Anya until Niylah raises her hands to silence us all.
"To all my fellow Grounders, welcome back!" A cheer goes up. "And to all our new members. Freshmen and Arkers. Welcome to the Grounder family." There is another cheer, but more subdued this time. Bellamy slouches a little lower in his chair. Octavia leans forward, her eyes alight. Clarke is watching Niylah, a ballpoint pen sketching out Niylah's likeness on Clarke's napkin, and I wonder if Clarke even knows what she's doing.
Anya kicks me under the table and raises an eyebrow. Pay attention.
I try. The speeches are all familiar, of course. This is my third Welcome Week, and there is very little to distinguish today from the Trikru luncheons that have come before. My eyes wander unbidden to Clarke and those hands always moving, always sketching or fiddling or worrying at the edge of the table. I'm wishing I had one of my course books with me, but I know full well I shouldn't be reading, because I'm supposed to set an example for Octavia, and couldn't be reading while seated at the same table as Clarke and her restless fingers.
And then comes the announcement that I'm really interested in. Lincoln steps up to the microphone and catches my eye with a smirk that says he knows I haven't really been paying attention until right this second.
"Trikru is my home," he begins, "but it wasn't always. I started out in Floukru before I joined Grounder Rugby-" A brief but loud cheer erupts until Lincoln raises his hand for quiet. "I joined Grounder Rugby and I transferred to Trikru in my second semester. If you know me, then you know that there is nothing more important to me than our kru and our home here in Polis. And there is no greater honor, for any member of Trikru, new or old, than that of representing Trikru in the interkru games right here for the title of Polis champions."
There is a murmur of agreement across the room. Octavia is watching Lincoln intently. Clarke's hands are suddenly still on the table.
"Our first match is a friendly against Floukru this coming Monday. It'll be a mudder." Someone in the back of the room lets out an appreciative whistle. "Everyone who wants to participate, participates. No exceptions. Arkers. Freshies. Old hands. I don't care. If you want to fight for Trikru, we will find a place for you. After the mudder, things will get serious. We'll start choosing teams on each floor. That's where your floor captains come in: Gaia, Bellamy, and Anya, would you please stand up?"
An interesting choice. Octavia's eyebrows shoot up as her brother stands and greets the room with a half wave. Anya and Gaia stand with their arms crossed, scanning the room. Anya has been sought after as a floor captain since last year, when she was unexpectedly passed up for the captaincy of the Rugby team, one of the few truly sore spots between us. It makes sense that she'd finally step up as a senior. Gaia, however, is Coach Indra's daughter, staunchly anti-jock in her own words, more likely to be found leading a prayer circle in the student lounge than leading a group of students into interkru competition.
But Bellamy is the truly interesting factor here. And he looks truly uncomfortable too, his hands now clasped stiffly behind his back. There are a few nods of appreciation from Arkers around the room, but if he was expecting support from the Grounders, he isn't getting it. I wonder if Lincoln was trying to make the Arkers feel more at home participating in the kru rivalry. I wonder if he's inadvertently created unnecessary conflict within Trikru instead.
"After the mudder, we'll have signups on each floor," Lincoln is saying, "And we'll discuss tryout procedures at that time. I cannot stress enough, any member of Trikru is welcome to participate. If you cannot make the mudder on Monday, let Niylah or myself know. Otherwise, find a team of four and get ready to rumble. We'll post a list of teams seeking additional members in the lounge."
The floor captains pass interkru games schedules down the tables as Lincoln moves on to the next topic: smoking on university property. Octavia looks over the schedule twice, folds it neatly into quarters, and slides it under the edge of her plate. Clarke's becomes a blank canvas for another sketch of Niylah. Raven doesn't take one at all, and I make a mental note to reach out to her about participation because I know that Echo won't.
When the captains are sitting again, Anya pitches Octavia on teaming up with her and Clarke for the mudder. Octavia agrees so fast that I almost think she's going to spring out of her chair. I meet Bellamy's eyes over Anya's shoulder with a neutral expression. He looks tired. Worried. I don't hate him, but I don't like him either. I don't like the way he looks at Octavia. I don't like the way that Clarke looks at him. I don't understand why I don't like any of these things, but I find myself fingering the knife on my belt under the table in idle contemplation until lunch is served and Anya is pulling us all into an ice breaker.
- Octavia is a little unfair to Southern California. There are green spaces there, but they are nothing quite like the vibrancy of a temperate rainforest, and she's feeling a little rebellious and a little overwhelmed at the same time.
- Was not planning to let Clarke and Lexa get off to a rocky start but here we are.
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