Finn had made this walk a thousand times before in his life. It was funny how his feet carried him through the campus so easily when he hadn’t set foot here in years. Of course, this time he wasn’t headed to his quarters, Elsa’s quarters, nor his hangar, nor the Aeronautics Research Center.
Automatically, without thinking, he dropped his cashed cigarette to the ground before he reached the main gates. There were some instincts he could not quell, and respect for this place was one of them.
He came to a slow halt in the heart of the courtyard and suddenly felt a funny jolt in his stomach: for the first time in a year, he looked across the cobblestone hearth and laid eyes on Elsa Larmona. Presently she was in deep conversation with a younger cadet he didn’t recognize (of course he didn’t; he had no idea who these fresh recruits were, why would he), which was an unfamiliar sight, her giving some kind of directive. When he’d left she’d been on the receiving end of orders. Even from him.
“There you are.”
Elsa’s voice broke over the courtyard then as she shielded her eyes with her hand, squinting across the way as she strode over. For a moment she simply shook her head in utter disbelief at what she saw. Finally she dropped her hand, amusement coloring her voice as she said bluntly, “Well you’re late.”
“Fashionably,” Finn agreed.
“I accounted for that,” she assured him at once, and without breaking stride she closed the distance between them and hugged him. Finn slipped a hand around her back and squeezed, but let go rather quickly.
Elsa, seemingly sensing nothing uneasy in him except, perhaps, what his clothing smelled like, suddenly wrinkled her nose, shot him a look and demanded curiously, “You still smoke? Not still smoking that good stuff, are you?”
“What? Me? No. Well, only if the mood strikes me. And I got most of those drugs from you if you remember,” Finn reminded, eyeing her pointedly, which instantly made a grin break out over her face.
“Oh, right,” she laughed. Then she sighed, her breath turning white in the air. “Well it’s nice to see you’re still alive. But I admit I’m pretty confused. I thought maybe you were here to ask for your reinstatement.”
“Not until they beg me,” he muttered, mostly to himself as his gaze wandered toward the tremendous brick building beyond her shoulder.
“The Carthian military doesn’t beg, Finn. Not even for you.” She smirked, but it slid off her face. “So you’re just here to help a friend then. But what about you? What are you doing next, exactly?”
Finn lowered his gaze to her face. For once, he wasn’t lying to her when he replied, “I’ve got a couple ideas.”