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Realistic or Modern Summer of Youth (OC x OC)


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Penny felt thoroughly exhausted - it wasn't exactly due to the five-hour flight from New York to London, nor the five-hour one from London to Moscow in quick succession. It wasn't having to drag her luggage to her dorm, riding a dinky metro train either, nor was it officially registering with the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. No, what truly exhausted her was getting confronted with the reality that her command of the Russian language - which she had so far considered fluent - had turned out to be far weaker than assumed. Purchasing metro tickets was easy, but it got more difficult when she asked a young student on campus where to find the student office. And getting registered there? Penny had had to resort to her pocket dictionary and phrasebook. Completely humiliating, hardly made any better with the disdainful, suspicious stare of the man across her in the booth.

After it was all said and done, Penny had quickly offloaded her luggage at her assigned dorm room - it was small, but looked comfortable - and chatted a bit with her new roommate, an economics student from Moormansk or wherever that was, named Daria. Daria soon departed to study at the library, and Penny finally found the peaceful time to lie down on her new bed and get some sleep. Drifting into the warm darkness, Penny expected to wake up with a clear mind at the morning. That did not happen - her sleep was full of feverish dreams. Dean, her footballer boyfriend from high school, was standing in a field of sunflowers - Penny tried to wave to him, but he dissipated into thin air, and dark clouds arrived overhead, bringing rain and thunder. Penny ran away with a sense of dread, jumping into a red barn that somehow had the interior of her family home back in Ithaca. It was empty, dark and dimly-lit - she took the stairs above, and turned the knob of her bedroomβ€”

And Penny jolted awake, drenched in cold sweat.

The analog clock on the wall showed the time to be 8:32 AM. Christ, she'd have to rush to make it to the breakfast at the dorm cafeteria, which Daria said ended around 9:20. Grabbing a fresh set of underwear and a white towel, Penny practically ran to the communal bathroom of the dorm - the few gals inside seemed to stare at her obviously foreign self, and Penny tried to shrug it off, getting into the shower cabin. With a turn of the shower valve, ice cold water poured over her body from above, deafening the whispers outside that Penny was sure were about herself. Five minutes of getting washed followed, Penny drying herself with the towel and rushing back to her room in less than two minutes.

It was 8:58 when she made it to the cafeteria, wearing a short-sleeved, loose, light green blouse, paired with a knee-length yellow skirt. Most tables were full even at this relatively late hour, it seemed. Penny grabbed a tray and received her food - a bowl of what looked like a porridge, with bits of fruits, and a plate of sausage - before setting off to find a table. To her frustration, none were empty - but one had only one man seated, a tall and bulky fellow with short black hair. Penny approached him and forced a smile, speaking in her best Russian.

"Good morning! Do you mind if I sit, ahem, here?"
It was a brisk morning in Moscow, as far as a cold morning would feel in Russia. What time was it? Did it even matter? It was early enough that the sun was not fully out yet and the city did not feel like it was even awake yet. The few people that were actually out at this time were all working. Illya was out on a run, he does this most mornings. Partly to exercise and keep fit and healthy, and partly because it helped him clear his mind. He ran down by the river after a little while, this was a good spot to take a breather.

Illya leaned on a railing to look across the river, taking a moment to catch his breath. He turned around and crossed his arms, directly on the wall across from him, a few posters were plastered up, one about space, but all the others about doing your duties to your country and similar messages. Illya stared at the posters for a moment, before his gaze was broken by someone walking past him. He looked away, it was time to go back and take a shower.

He does have his own place, a dorm room in which he lives withanother student, Alexei, yet he doesn't like to stay there too much because of him. He's a bit 'modern' for Illya's liking, he doesn't have the same outlook on a lot of things that Alexei does, and he's certain that he meets with a lot of others and enjoys some western media. If avoiding someone living with him was one thing, then his own aunt was another. To put it simply, she was a bit much. He's only been in the dorm for a few weeks, and when he finally got to move in he was excited for it, finally he was able to move out. It's a shame it wasn't like he expected, but guess that is something to deal with.

A bit of time had passed, he opted for a shower at his aunts, it was cold, but substantially better than what the dorm would be. Illya got dressed into a dark pair of suit pants, a white vest and a black rollneck sweater on top. As he was about to go out, he could hear her moving about waking up in her room, it was time to go. It was a fairly long walk to the school, but it was still too early for anything. Bit of breakfast perhaps? Somehow, in the midst of his early morning routine, there wasn't time for breakfast. Sat down on the one table which was empty, it was starting to get a bit busy in the cafeteria. As he sat there with his plate of food, just as he was about to tuck in he heard a voice behind him, he put his fork down and gestured towards the table. "Feel free." he replied.

As he finally put a mouthful of food into his mouth it dawned on him that the girl had an odd accent, and the russian was slightly off. Illya looked up at her for a brief moment before looking down at his food, almost hiding his face from her.
Penny quietly thanked him and looked down at her food too, being less shy and more simply hungry. A few minutes of awkward silence followed, with Penny eating spoonfuls of the porridge. It wasn't particularly tasty, gosh, no - in fact it had an irritating texture, but it was warm and filling, which was more than could be said for what she had had on her flights in. After some time, though, the silence became intolerable. Clearing her throat, she looked up to the equally silent Russian man across her.

"The classes start in two days, don't they?"

If her accent had been somewhat obscured by her silent tone before, now it had come out in full force. The clearly foreign woman kept playing with her food, not actually eating a whole lot now that she wanted to talk to the man across her. She had heard the Russkies were cold, to be sure, but they seemed much colder than what she had previously assumed. Part of Penny wondered if she should just let it be, accept that she wasn't going to socialize much in her time here, but that view died out in her mind. What was even the point of the whole exchange program, if she wouldn't actually talk to local people?

"Oh, forgive my rudeness. I'm Linda Campbell."

It was her middle name, technically, and one she didn't really use much outside of paperwork. But as far as she knew, the name Linda would be easier to pronounce to a Russian speaker than the violently alien Penelope, or worse, Penny. The surname was the real sore point - not only was it clearly of Western origin, it marked her as someone from the Anglophone world, people usually not allowed into the USSR, or at the very least, viewed with more suspicion than a Belgian or Italian person would receive. Penny hoped the awkwardness of it would be reduced by the knowledge of the student exchange program, but then that required the assumption that the students on the Soviet side of the deal had heard about it.

They had, right?
There was this tension in the air, a glance every now and then from Illya at the girl sat across from him. It was a tension that most likely only felt by Illya. It was a person from the west? Here? he found it difficult to eat his food, it felt like he was sat across from an enemy. Obviously she isn't just a spy but to have someone from the west so casually sitting across from him felt wrong.

It then hit him, sure classes hadn't started yet, but there were a few proceedural things happening, and tutorials for getting the students situated and comfortable at the school. None of which he attended, he wasn't exactly busy within the previous week so he could have attended all of this, but he felt like he wouldn't need to be hand held through school, it appears there was something important that would have been important to know.

She then spoke, introducing herself to him. Her name was very American. He froze, looking up at her once again, before scanning around the rom, how many more were there? Still looking away from her towards the rest of the cafeteria he responded. "Illya- Illya Kuzkin" his voice was deep and carried around the area, fitting for his relatively imposing appearance. Illya was just thinking in his head how to deal with this girl. He would move, if there wasn't a chance to run into more Americans.

Finally he came to turn his gaze on her once more, staring directly into her eyes, almost as a way of trying to intimidate her. "American." his voice was clear with a sense of slight disgust.
Christ. Ilya was ice-cold to her, the way he pronounced "American" was nearly venomous. Penny felt her blood pressure drop as he stared into her light brown eyes. She visibly stumbled as she ate a spoonful of porridge, chewing on the bits of apples and carrots in it while thinking of how to respond. In the end she responded intuitively - not with a word, but instead a subtle nod of her head, to confirm that she was in fact American. She understood his aversion, partially - if they had switched places, she was sure some American student in Tennessee would have sneered at the Russkie in front of her. That didn't make her feel any better though - it just felt...Gray and awkward. This was going to be a long, long semester if she had to talk to everyone like this...

"What about, uh, you? Russian? Ukrainian? Kazakh? Just, uh, Soviet?"

Immediately afterward she regretted saying it. Of course he'd say "Just Soviet", much like how she herself wouldn't call herself a New Yorker before an American. Whatever he responded with, this was becoming unbearable, and Penny was looking for ways to get out. Just walking out would be too rude but...but what other excuse could there be? She forced herself to think, and it seemed like she had found a way, but before she could open her mouth Ilya began speaking. Penny instead pouted and waited for Ilya to finish, leaning forward slightly, curious as to what he would say - although that curiosity was dissipating rapidly.

Was it always that cold in there? Or was it a chill down her spine? Awful, just awful, Penny felt outright miserable. Maybe studying in Moscow wasn't such a great idea to begin with...She was already regretting it - having signed up for it, having ignored her mom's concerns, having not studied more Russian before arriving. While deep in contemplation, her face fell down, Penny staring at the empty bowl of porridge.
He didn't want to talk to her, she didn't want to talk to him, but the girl seemingly insisted on trying to force some cornversation out of him. It was understandable, being in a new country all by herself. And as cold as Illya might be to people normally, she will most likely get the same reaction from a lot of other students. Perhaps instead it would have been wiser to simply try and find other foreign students, where she will have a lot more in common with them. Why is she here? What would an American student be here for?

The girl came in positive, looking to open up and talk, but Illya shut it down quickly. That much was evident, within seconds he had drained happiness from her face. He didn't even respond to her question about where he was from. Instead he continued to stare at her.

As the girl was looking down at her bowl, his eyes scanned her up and down. There was a part of him deep down, that did feel bad for the girl. Sure, she's the enemy, that's what every poster, every radio broadcast and every film ensures him, but he could at least pretend that she is welcome, seeing how his harsh reaction effected her so easily. No, wait, that's what she wants, she's being all puppy eyed, to try get him and others later on to soften up so she can spread her western drivel. That's just it, an act.

He stood up from the table, his frame looming over her. He then spoke, in English this time. "You are not studying here" he stated, confidently as if it was factual, "You are American movie star, pretty face and blonde, I know what you are doing." he slapped her empty bowl across the table, speaking again this time in Russian, "You can't fool me, I won't fall for your tricks." he turned away and stormed off to go to a water fountain.
Penny's mouth dropped agape as Ilya stormed off. That was just beyond rude! Were people staring? Oh Christ, yes, they were. Her head sunk down and she meekly picked up her tray, dropping it back at the counter with wet eyes that occasionally dripped tears. Penny felt miserable throughout her body, and walked back to her dorm room, not particularly caring about the environment around her, only her own thoughts - especially on the unsettling dream she had last night. When safely back and alone in her room - Daria was probably busy outside - she let out the torrent of tears and cried herself until she had been satiated.

The next few days were mostly without issue or anything particularly important. She registered for her classes - first up was political science on Monday morning at 10 AM. She took great pains to dress properly for it - putting on a black turtleneck sweater and a matching knee-length skirt, also doing her hair into a bun, before entering the classroom at 9:55. The class was just about to start - although the professor had not yet arrived - and there was only one empty seat next to her. She knew better than to assume it would be left unclaimed, and pulled her backpack away from it, to leave some open space for whoever would sit there. People were chattering, and she wanted to join in. But maybe not from the first class, so Penny stayed silent, fiddling with her pencil instead.
A few days had passed since the morning of the altercation he had with the American girl, but he didn't think about it too much. Maybe he was harsh to her, but the fact is, she was likely to be facing a lot more reactions just like his. That is a reality she will be having to deal with. Tensions are high between their countries.

Illya went through the same routine, an early morning run followed by the decision to spend his time at his aunt's place or even his own. The morning of his first class, Illya returned to his dorm room after a run and a shower, his room mate already awake and getting ready for his class, the two didn't say anything to each other. Illya got dressed into a usual pair of pants and a grey polo shirt, opposing to Alexei wearing a lot of colour.

Although it would take them the same time to get to their respective classes, Illya waited for Alexei to leave so that they wouldn't have to walk together. Sure this would cost him a couple minutes and possibly cause him to be a little late to class, but that was the preferred option. Finally he left, and soon enough he was attending his first class, political science. He walked in, perhaps not as late as he thought, the professor was not yet here so that was good. Illya noted the one chair not occupied by a student, and as he made his way over, he saw who was situated next to it, great. He dropped his satchel briefcase on to the floor next to the desk, before sitting himself down on the desk. Illya sat looking directly ahead, trying not to take note of the girl next to him. He didn't expect her to talk this time. She was all by herself, there were conversations being held by other students around the room, did he destroy her confidence the other day?
Penny tried to kill time by doodling on her notebook - a car, a tree, a poor attempt at a self-portrait. She eventually got unbearably bored, though, and turned to face Illya. This time her face was more sunken, her voice quieter - and her tone much, much less friendly.

"Oh, you're taking this class too?"

Before she could continue or Illya could respond, the door opened, and the professor walked on in. He was an elderly, Asian-looking man with a full head of white hair. Probably Central Asian, Penny guessed, as the professor got up to the blackboard and wrote POLITICS on it with chalk, in the Russian language. Then he took a step forward and boomed to the class, looking at their faces.

"Politics! Do any of you know what that means? Give me a definition, a polemic, a vocal thought - anything!"

The class was remarkably silent. Nobody moved an inch, or spoke. Penny felt disgusted - why were people coming to university if they would only sit there like dolls? Just as the professor was about to speak, she raised her hand to speak, catching the man by surprise. She cleared her throat, and answered the question.

"Uh, perhaps I could say it is all public affairs?"

Someone snickered. Penny didn't react, but the professor appeared pleased. He underlined POLITICS and turned back to face the class again.

"Maybe. Not a full explanation, but public affairs is a good starting point. And your name was, young lady?"

Oh God. This was bad - Penny scrambled her brain, and managed to blurt out her middle name:

"Linda, sir. Linda Campbell."
In the short amount of time that Illya arrived to the classroom and sat down in a seat, he listened to the various conversations around the room, but did not feel inclined to go join in and talk to anyone. So far he made no attempts to make any friends with anyone at the school, instead he had friends that lived and working in the city, so any time he would see any of them it would have to be after school hours.

Illya sat with a blank expression looking dead straight at the front of the room, while waiting, a voice to the side of him spoke. It was her of course, he recgonised the voice, this time however her tone of friendliness gone. Before he could respond to her question the professor had finally entered the room, Illya's attention centered back on the front of the room.

Starting off the lecture with a question to get the students thinking, and to get the students to interpret their own meanings of politics. No one had said anything, no whispers, no movement, except one.

Illya could see in his peripherals, a hand raised. It was the girl from before. She gave an answer, maybe not the most precise and direct definition but the professor was pleased with her start. There was snickering around the room, and no matter what she said, no matter how right, they would still react the same. When they met before, he truly did just assume she was an actor sent from America to somehow, and for some reason, dissuade the students of Russia to support their country's ideals. If that theory was even remotely true, then she would not be making any attempts to try in class, or even show up in a class.

If she was here on honest terms, she was still an enemy in the eyes of Illya.

After her interaction with the professor, he wanted himself to get seen too, so he also put his hand up. Before the professor could react or even acknowledge he had anything to say, Illya blurted his answer out.

"Politics is... the internal framework on what effects the state of being and welfare of a country's own people, or it's stance within the world." Illya stated, after he spoke he turned and looked at Linda, then at the professor. He tried to sound as coherent and pretentious as possible, but in the end most likely sounding like he was trying too hard.
The professor pushed his glasses a bit further on his nose, before raising an eyebrow and looking towards Illya. He seemed almost curious, but also displeased by the relatively poor attempt to give an answer. He then crossed his arms over his chest and took a step back.

"An answer that might be correct. Could you please elaborate, however? I am not entirely convinced."

Penny could see Illya grimacing. He likely would not be able to give a sufficient answer, so she leaned in and whispered in his ear, barely audible even with the full silence of the room. She spoke rapidly, though, as to avoid the professor noticing them talking. She wasn't a fan of doing this, essentially giving cheat answers to an on-the-spot quiz, but she had her reasons for it. For a start, maybe Illya would be less hostile to her if she helped him out. Secondly, unless Illya gave a good enough answer, all the attention would be directed on her. And that Penny did not want, for so far she had known that too much attention over in Russia was a bad thing, especially as a foreigner.

"Say something about inter-state and intra-state relations, and how they differ. International politics is different from domestic politics, you know?"
There was now this moment after the professor speaking in which felt like a lifetime. In his own hubris and wanting to outdo Linda, he rushed out a few buzzwords and is on the verge of embarrassing himself completely. It sounded trivial, who cares if he got something wrong in the first few minutes of their first lecture?

Illya did of course, he both couldn't let the American show him up, or let the other students see him than anything other than what he looks like, a big idiot. As Illya was about to stutter out some further buzz words, a whisper, barely even audible to him, gave him a bit of help. Yet it didn't sound like she was trying to undermine him, she sounded genuine with her help. If that wasn't the case she would've just taken that spotlight once again for herself. Illya found that... endearing?

Seconds merely went by, he looked ahead seeing the professors face turning into slight dissapproval of his silence, he could almost hear the ticking down in his head.

Clearing his throat, Illya stood up and spoke; "if you take inter-state and intra-state politics, though distinct, are interconnected. International events can impact domestic policies, and internal developments within a state can affect its global standing. Distinguishing between these levels of politics aids in understanding the complexities of the global political landscape and the challenges states face in balancing internal and external affairs" he slumped down to his chair, looking forward at class, not acknowledging the enormous help from Linda.
The professor seemed happier with this answer, but luckily for everyone involved, he had far better things to do than pick on two particular students throughout a lecture. The rest of the class went by like a breeze, with Penny taking notes throughout, but before any of them could realize how much time had passed, the clock struck 12 PM, and students began to filter out of the classroom after the professor. Penny for her part remained seated, her face down and her hand doodling on the sides of her notebook. She had thought about asking if Illya would like to have lunch together, but figured he'd give her a cold reception regardless, and kept to herself. At least this wasn't a horrible way to kill time, she thought, drawing what looked like a dog (barely so), while reminiscing over what she had learned in the previous lecture.
After his interection the rest of the class went by no problem, it was their first one after all so there should be no difficulty with the topic. As it ended, Illya got his things and proceeded to walk towards the door, he stopped in his tracks. Even though his head told him to just continue, his heart, no not his heart, his gut instinct told him to go back and apologize to Linda for how he behaved in the cafeteria the day before.

Illya turned around, taking a few steps forward to her table, he glanced at her notebook, then at her. He fake coughed to get attention, then spoke, "Linda, I- My... I apologize for my- for how I was the other day." he nodded, "That is all" Illya turned around not giving her a single moment to respond to him directly. Facing away, he stood there for a moment, not making any sort of effort towards leaving again, so perhaps to any of his better judgment, he turned around once more, taking a couple more steps towards her desk.

"So what I mean to say is, if you'd like to go to lunch?" This time he waited for a response from her.
Linda almost jolted in surprise when Illya approached her and briskly apologized - so invested had she been in her doodles that she hadn't even heard his footsteps. Before she could even respond, though, he was walking away with sulking shoulders. Linda shrugged and went back to her doodles - his apology seemed really half-baked - but a moment later Illya was back, slightly irritating Linda. Was he ever going to speak straight, she wondered, with a growing grudge within her, before he opened his mouth and offered lunch. Given she hardly had something better to do, Linda agreed, and stood up to gather her backpack together. The pair then left the empty lecture hall, heading towards the cafeteria.

The cafeteria was even more crowded than last time. Linda figured it was because while some might have breakfast at home, virtually everyone was guaranteed to have lunch at the cafeteria. Mindful of the space (and time!) constraints, she breezed through the food queue with Illya in tow. Then they had to wait five minutes for an empty table, and Linda could have sworn her wrists were getting sore from holding the food tray by the time they sat down.

"Bon appΓ©tit." She remarked dryly, then starting to eat the soup on her tray.
Was this a mistake? She agreed to come with him, she could be going off somewhere else or just sitting by herself. But she did agree to join, rather than stay doodling in her notebook. There was hardly any talk between the two, even while they awkwardly stood around waiting for a table.

After they finally sat down, they still sat in a bit of silence, she did break it however by simply saying 'bon appΓ©tit', to that, Illya just nodded. He poked around the soup with his spoon, not eating any just yet. Why did he do this? Surely not because he felt bad about how he treated her before. He thought if anything, he should introduce her to his roommate, he loves the west, and he would surely have a lot more to talk to her, and of course more willingly than Illya would. However, assuming they do get along, maybe too well, he could end up seeing her back at his own dorm. That he did not want happening.

In his thoughts, while he played with his food, he struggled to think of something to say to her. He rattled his mind, for something, anything, just to break the tension that he undoubtedly caused. "Where do you live?" he asked in English, hoping she would think there was some sort of effort on his end, "I mean, where in America?" he continued. Illya put his spoon down completely, his was sat up straight but his shoulders relaxed as he looked at her for an answer.
Linda meanwhile was busy eating the soup, not really feeling like conversing. She could have gone through the entire lunch without speaking a single word at that rate, simply staring at her tray, but Illya soon opened his mouth. At first he seemed to struggle with what to ask, but managed to blather out a few heavily-accented English words, asking where she was from. Linda lifted her head from the tray and let her shoulders drop, clearing her throat. "Ithaca, it's in New York. Not the, uh, city though, just the state." She responded, in halting Russian.

"My family is from Connecticut, though. What about, uh, you?" She asked, stuttering a bit and finishing her words by tabbing on her lips with a paper napkin. The napkin seemed to be of very low quality, immediately coming apart. Much like the soap at the dorms...The place just seemed old and tired.
At least she actually replied to him, a part of Illya really expected a blank response. He began to think that this was all his fault, she was bright and happy, now she was, well, more like him.

He listened to her talk, then answered her question. This time he spoke Russian, he didn't know his English was that bad. "I was born in the country, small village, I was too young to remember, now I live here with my Aunt right in the city."

Illya paused for a moment, as if hesitant to say something. "Do you like it in my country?"

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