Okay. So.

Who remembers the Chronicle Countdown I did on Insta with two other accounts ( and .medora) a few months ago? If you did, you'll notice a lot of this chapter has the exact same as Day 31: Graduation. If you haven't ... well, enjoy!

Also, I told a group chat that I was actually writing a Kailex breakup for the first paragraph ... you'll notice that the way it's worded makes it seem like that. But I assure you, they don't break up. :D

Disclaimer: I am not Lynette Noni

xxvi. Alex

"Can we talk?"

Ignoring the apprehension rising in her chest, Alex detached herself from the group, all talking excitedly and heading down towards the amphitheatre where the graduation ceremony was being held, and turned to reluctantly meet the blue eyes fastened on her. Nodding wordlessly, she followed the bobbing head towards a more secluded area of the grounds.

Crossing her arms defensively, Alex addressed without preamble. "What do you want, Pipsqueak?"

Pipsqueak fidgeted nervously, not meeting Alex's eyes as she mumbled, "I want to end this year on a good note, so … I'm sorry. For what I said about D.C., and snapping at you when it's clearly a topic that you don't take lightly."

Alex exhaled slowly, trying to calm her rising anger. Pipsqueak was clearly being genuine, no deceit about her … and she was right, it would be best to end the year on a good note …

"So am I. I shouldn't have said those things."

Pip offered a rather impish grin. "I kind of deserved it."

Alex shrugged. "Nobody deserves to be called a coward."

"See you next term!" Pip called after her when Alex hurried away, and Alex grinned back, unable to help herself. After all, forgiveness had always come easily to her.

Alex soon located Jordan and Bear among the mass of students and families alike, and her eyes finally sought Kaiden, who was standing with Declan, Nash and Paris with the rest of the fifth-years positioned near the base of the stage. He flashed her a grin, completely at ease; she struggled to squelch the anxiety once again building in her chest.

He'll be an apprentice, he'll be an apprentice …

/

It was announced that Declan would be staying on as an apprentice to Karter, and Alex's shoulders slumped in relief. After all, it was good news for both himself and Bear. She watched the big guy hurry offstage and make his way up to where the general student population were sitting. He was obviously disappointed about SAS, but clearly ecstatic about Combat. As he passed her, he stopped and hissed, "Hey, we're going to watch Kaid's presentation with the other guys. Coming?"

Alex nodded and got to her feet, following Declan to where the other Combat boys were standing. "Just think, Queenie," said Nick, as his way of greeting. "You'll be doing this, this time next year, but you'll still be the youngest."

"That's something called age difference, Nick," snorted Alex, accepting the drink Brendan offered her.

Kaiden's name was called, and Alex's eyes dropped immediately to the stage. She watched her boyfriend cross the stage confidently and receive his certificate, but Darrius didn't utter a single syllable of him going on as an apprentice. He stayed calm, but as he exited the stage Alex could see startled disappointment on his face.

Then the realisation hit her, like it had been done so with a large, hard, icy-cold fish. Kaiden wasn't going to be an apprentice. He was leaving the academy forever - leaving her.

She was suddenly feeling like she was about to throw up. She told herself, multiple times, that there was no way he'd leave the academy so soon, not when she still leaned on him so much. She hated herself for being so selfish, but he needed to stay at the academy.

"What?" hissed Declan. "Did we miss something?"

"Definitely not," whispered Brendan.

"Maybe there's a glitch in the programming," Nick suggested.

"No way would he not be an apprentice," Sebastian added.

Alex listened to them with dread, convincing herself that it was all one huge mistake. It was Kaiden James - with his talent and all the elite classes he was in, surely at least one instructor wanted him as an apprentice. Then she thought, rather viciously, that Kaiden was the best at Combat, better than Declan, better than any of the other boys.

He was jogging up to them, and the boys greeted him with an array of disappointed remarks, choice words and some uncomplimentary comments about the academy staff. Kaiden came up to them, and brushed off their words, promising he'd try to see them all again in the future. He gave herself and Declan a quick hug each, and she threw her arms around him gratefully, barely holding down her tears.

His fingers stroked her hair comfortingly, something achingly familiar, as he murmured in her ear. "Hey. We'll talk later, okay?" Despite the promise lacing his words, his assurance failed to calm Alex down in the slightest.

Then he released her, muttering something about seeing his sister, before melting into the crowd.

Alex fixated her eyes on his retreating form, trying to implant a final picture of him in her mind. He'd become so much to her - a friend, a protector, a confidant, an equal - and the boy she'd allowed herself to fall so badly for.

Blinking away the sudden and inconvenient tears, Alex folded her arms across her chest and watched the rest of the ceremony in silence. Anger and misery were all building up inside of her, and it was for a number of reasons - that the academy hadn't given him what he'd deserved, that she hadn't known him for longer, that she'd never get a chance to tell him how she really felt about him.

But to her surprise, when every speech was finished and every fifth-year had received their certificate, Darrius remained at the podium, and three instructors entered the stage - Hunter, Karter and Maggie. Almost immediately, the audience flooded with speculating whispers. Intrigued, Alex paid close attention to the following announcement.

"In the history of this school, apprentices are regarded as the best of the best. It is a huge honour to be undertaken in one class, let alone two. However, this student is making history by being undertaken under three instructors. I present to you, who will be continuing his studies under Epsilon Combat, Epsilon Archery and Stealth and Subterfuge - Kaiden James."

Alex clapped her hands over her mouth, her eyes as wide as saucers. Almost immediately the audience erupted, generating an eardrum-bursting explosion of euphoria, the Epsilon Combat kids the loudest amongst them. Alex and the boys had lost it, jumping around and cheering and yelling and laughing. Alex was squealing.

"Oh God, Queenie's crying!" Sebastian yelled. "Run for our lives!"

"They're happy tears, dimwit!" Alex shouted back. "Nothing to fear!"

"Doubtful! They're still tears!" hollered Declan.

"Oh shut up, Declan!"

Kaiden was grinning ear to ear as he slipped off stage once more. Five excruciating minutes passed before Nick sighted him making his way over to his Combat classmates. Alex slipped under the railing and ran down to greet him, and Alex couldn't have been more surprised when he came up and embraced her, lifting her up and spinning her around. She couldn't help but shriek with laughter, giggling madly when he set her down.

"I'm so damn proud of you," Alex said, bobbing up on her tiptoes to kiss him. He grinned into the kiss, his hands gripping her hips, and the kiss would have likely escalated if somebody conveniently decided to pointedly clear their throat.

"Just had to make history, didn't you Kaid?" Jeera James called out, stepping fluidly through the swell of students and families. It was one of the few times Alex had ever seen her not in her Warden uniform; today's outfit was ripped jeans and a black vest. Not far behind she could see the approaching profile of Nisha James, and despite her association with the two women, Alex was still slightly nervous at the inevitable of talking to her boyfriend's admittedly intimidating family. As if sensing her slight unease, Kaiden reached out and curled an arm around her, pulling her into his side.

Or maybe he just couldn't resist. And to be honest, neither was Alex. She hadn't stopped beaming since they'd announced it.

"You've got to aim high in life," Kaiden replied to his sister.

"Well, looks like you hit the goddamn bullseye," Jeera responded breezily, now standing with them. Alex noted that Declan, the Combat boys and their usual group were now approaching as well as Nisha, and just as she scanned her eyes happily about, they froze on a final figure hobbling between them, between the profiles of two Shield Wardens.

Her Abuela.

I'm sorry, but I couldn't resist a cliffhanger ... also Abuela is awesome and needs to be in Medora