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alderwitch

No Place Like Home

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Location: Currently Claremont, later the Fens
Date: 9/19/15

It had taken minimal cajoling, surprisingly to Robin, to coax extra bread and peanut butter from the staff that handled Claremont's dining service. It had been worth the somewhat sad-eyed look she'd gotten for the small trash bag of sandwiches she had slung over her shoulder like an odd Santa's sack. Ho ho ho. Robin wasn't quite sneaking out of Claremont. It was the weekend, after all, and they were allowed to leave and return home. Of course, Robin's home was more of a zip code than a street address but nonetheless, she was antsy to get back to it. The Fens needed her, Robin was convinced of it and nothing, likely including an act of God, could probably sway her from that opinion. 

Robin shouldered her backpack onto her shoulder, trash bag of sandwiches in hand. She was about to head out towards the gate when she paused at the Lost and Found box to poke around in it. She never took anything from lost and found that was important or valuable, but when she found two sweatshirts with logos plastered across them, she collected those too, bundling them under one arm and heading for the gate directly, clearly not making eye contact with anyone on her way on foot towards the school gate. 

Edited by alderwitch

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It was by coincidence that Hannah spotted Robin looking for all the world like a peculiar brand of Santa Claus, looking over the lost and found "Hi." She said, somewhat quietly. "What's the bag for?" She asked. She was being a bit more bold than normal, for a moment, before correcting herself and saying. "Um,  I mean, if you want to tell me. It's really none of my business. Um, lose something?"

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Robin paused in stuffing the 'lost' sweatshirt into the bag and for half a second clutched the bag to her chest like it might be taken from her before forcing the tension from her body. "Oh, this? It's..." She hesitated for a moment before lowering the bag slightly. Robin adjusted the truth just a bit, "It's supplies... and stuff... for home. I was going to go back to the Fens today."

She hesitated for a long moment before reluctantly adding, "They need me. I've been gone all week for school."

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Even though she could fly at close to the speed of sound (faster even, if she pushed it) or dash around like the wind, Casey still liked to do normal stuff like run. Her dad explained to her that while her bioenergy field gave her tremendous power, it was useless if you didn't take care of the body that housed it, and being a lifelong athlete, she was happy to oblige.

So today she was out running laps around the school in a dark blue sport bra, matching bike shorts and her favorite Nikes, her hair pulled through an Air Force Academy ball cap and a water bottle bouncing on her running belt. Most people these days wore headphones while jogging, but Casey liked the quiet; the sound of her breathing, the slap of her shoes on the ground and the wind rustling in the trees. Plus if she really wanted to, she could always listen to the radio all on her own!

As she made her way around the south end of the campus, she noted two of the new girls talking; Robin and...Hannah, was it? The African-American girl had made quite an impression on her, clearly a fighter but with no special powers who came from one of the roughest neighborhoods in town; yes, her dad had warned her about the Fens, as well as the Southside, though from what she gathered the latter wasn't quite as bad as he made it out to be. Hannah seemed nice, but she didn't really get what her powers were; surely she did more than make bubbles?

Noting the inner city girl's backpack, she trotted over to the pair, suitably intrigued. She offered them both a smile and a friendly wave as she stopped; unlike most runners, she didn't pant or seem out of breath after exhertion, but she did have a healthy sheen of sweat, and her body actually radiated a soft golden glow.  

"Hey guys, what's up?" She indicated Robin's pack with a nod as she took a swig of water from her bottle. "Hitting the trail or something?"

Edited by Heritage

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Hannah read between the lines well enough. This wasn't a patrol, this wasn't visiting family. This was a humanitarian mission. Going to the Fens with stuff to give people who need it. Hannah smiled a slight smile to herself. Hero work, from what she could see, often involved stopping bad guys. Stopping the loss of life and property. It could also involve helping people in other ways, too. She liked that. 

"Well, um...if you'd like some help, I don't think there's anything better I could do than help people." She winced internally. Of course she'd put it that way. She must have sounded like the cheesiest thing ever. 

As Casey approached, she smiled and gave a little wave. It struck Hannah how pretty some of the people at Claremont were. She liked her new classmates well enough, but it was very unlikely that any boys would notice her with girls like Casey or Robin running around.

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Robin's shifted the bag under one arm, stuffing the other 'claimed' sweatshirt on top of her small collection of sandwiches. Her expression was tight, not quite embarrassed but certainly self conscious. "Nope. Not camping," she answered Casey, her sentences brief and clipped but not unfriendly, "Just packing up a few things to head, you know, home."

Robin gestured vaguely with her free hand towards the gate and swung the small trash bag back up to one shoulder once more. She shifted, her worn sneaker scuffing the grass as she weighed her options. Hannah seemed like a nice girl, certainly well meaning, but Robin wasn't exactly the sort to invite people back to the streets. Especially rather sheltered kids like Hannah, but she didn't really want to linger here - or make Hannah feel rejected. 

"I guess we're both heading to the Fens. You got bus money?" She asked Hannah as she shifted her weight, decision made, "'Cuz we should hoof it if we wanna make the next bus."

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Something was going on below the surface; Casey knew when she wasn't getting the whole story, and that feeling always aroused both her curiosity and sympathy. Robin was from the Fens; she was tough and didn't talk a lot, and her clothes were well-worn. She was bringing a backpack and a garbage bag full of...something back with her while visiting 'home', all of which led the blonde Coloradan to believe that 'home' might not be so great after all. Her eyes told her something wasn't right, and her heart told her she should help.

"No, all three of us are going to the Fens." She smiled as a stopwatch suddenly appeared in her hand. "Just give me two seconds." She clicked the button, and then vanished in a rush of wind; several seconds later, she was back, showered with her glasses on and hair up, wearing nondescript gray sweats and running shoes with an oversize hemp bag over one shoulder. Clicking the stopwatch again, she frowned. "Darn it, five point three seconds! Sorry to keep you both waiting." She tucked the watch into the pocket of her sweats, adjusted her glasses and grinned. "Okay, let's catch that bus!"

Edited by Heritage

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Hannah went along with it. She'd have loved to tell the pretty blonde that she didn't need to come along, but that wouldn't have been fair. Casey was well meaning, and Hannah herself had volunteered for what Robin had surely intended to be a solo trip. So she smiled and nodded. Besides, it was ultimately up to Robin to decide whether or not Casey would be okay to come along. Hannah rolled with the punches, couldn't blame Casey for being a pretty blonde when she was a rather plain brunette. 

So she headed off towards the bus station, change in hand. She had enough spending money to cover all three of them. If nothing else, her parents had made sure she'd have enough money for snacks, food, and any other reasonable thing she'd want. Frankly, it was the most money she'd ever gotten from her parents, at least as money. 

Edited by Thunder King

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Robin opened her mouth to argue but Casey was off and gone before she could say a word. In the few seconds that Casey was gone, Hannah could certainly see a muscle flexing in Robin's jaw as she wrestled with a self-protective desire to not share this trip with yet another friendly stranger. She exhaled sharply as Casey reappeared. Dr. Marquez would be very proud of the fact that Robin contained herself to a sidelong look before allowing, "....Sure. Let's go."

She led the way to the bus although when Hannah held out money for the bus fare, Robin wasn't too proud to let the other girl pay. Certainly, her pride stung as she shoved the handful of carefully scavenged bills and quarters back into one worn pocket. "Thanks," Robin said as she led the way to the back of the bus, "This'll take a bit."

Robin didn't talk much as she took up a seat on one of the benches and the bus trundled along from the rather ritzy Bayview area towards first the theater district and then through it. At first the bars were the sort of moderate gastropub types that appealed to theater goers but as the bus chugged along, they turned quickly seedy. The sort of bars that opened at 10 AM interspersed with adult stores and cheap convenience stores. By the time Robin had reached up to yank the cord for the next stop, the buildings were run down with laundry drying from the balcony of the low rent apartment above the adult book store the bus stopped in front of. 

"This is the stop," Robin said as she stood up, her expression stony, as she swept up both backpack and trash bag to pick her way towards the front of the bus. She paused and then turned back, not unkindly, "It'll loop back around to Bayview if you've changed your mind," before heading for the front of the bus. 

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This was not the first time Casey had been on a bus; she'd used the Mountain Metro several times back home, usually putting her bike in the rack up front and enjoying the air conditioned ride for a bit. But this was her first trip in Freedom, and It was very different from that.

At first it was exciting to see more of Bayview, then crossing the river and passing through the Theatre District; she should really see show sometime! Casey instinctively knew not to bother Robin, but she did her best to engage Hannah in murmured conversation, talking about life back in Colorado and various Girl Scout trips she'd been on, while trying to find out more about the shy girl.

However as the bus drew closer to the Fens, the conversation gradually faltered until Casey became very quiet. The racial and economic makeup of the passengers shifted, and the young blonde became acutely aware of being an upper middle class white girl from out of town. She felt irrational twinges of panic, even though she doubted anyone here could hurt her, assuming they'd even want to do so.

Welcome to the real world, Case; this is your wake up call.

"No, this is fine," she said as she rose unsteadily to her feet, mad at herself for holding her stupid hemp shoulder bag so tightly.

Edited by Heritage

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Hannah followed wordlessly. She knew neighborhoods like this existed, there were some in Chicago. She'd never been in one, and she probably wouldn't be here now if she didn't have powers, or personal protection. She had both, a force field that could stop...a lot of things, and the ability to protect herself besides. She wasn't totally comfortable, but she felt relatively safe. Besides, what kind of superhero would she be if she ran away from the shadow of a threat?

"Lead the way." She said with obvious fake cheerfulness. She was going to see this through, even though she plainly looked concerned.

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Robin nodded once, swinging down from the bus entrance and stepped to the side as she waited for her erstwhile compatriots to follow. Even though she expected their not entirely unreasonable nerves, it still stung to see the tense expressions. She let it go without comment, though, as the girls descended from the bus. Absentmindedly, Robin stepped on a still smoking cigarette butt, putting it out with one sneakered toe. 

"It's early in the day still. The streets are safer when its light out," Robin offered the reassurance as the girls stepped out onto the Fens. Shifting her trashbag over one shoulder, "C'mon, Henry usually hangs out in front of the bars this time of day. That's down this way."

Robin turned down one of the narrower streets with confidence in her direction. "You have to get in early if you want to hit the soup kitchens but most of 'em aren't too keen on Rufus so Henry usually ends up grifting for hand outs instead. It's Saturday, so that means the crappy dive bars that open early." 

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Back home in Colorado, Casey had worked at homeless shelters a few times, either with the Scouts or the Grace and St. Stephen's youth group; mostly it was serving Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, knitting scarves or providing warm clothing. Something told her homelessness in Freedom (what an ironic phrase!) was a lot harsher. "So, Henry and Rufus...are friends of yours?" She made a conscious effort to relax her tense muscles, breath normally and look if not cool, than at least not paranoid and skittish.

She also reminded herself that if she was volunteering in a war-torn or undeveloped country, she would not feel this way even if might actually be in more danger; though she certainly didn't think of herself as racist, she clearly had some issues to work through.

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Hannah had spent her entire life pretending to be okay when she was scared, or nervous, so she applied the same pleasant, neutral expression that she did in any other stressful, tense situation. It was a defense mechanism. However, she was here to help. She felt that if she was going to be a superhero, she needed to help in more than one way. 

So she did what she usually did, she listened, and she followed directions. It kept her out of trouble most of the time, because people just didn't notice her often.

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"Ehhh... Henry's alright. He's got some problems but he's not a bad guy. Everyone likes Rufus, though," Robin volunteered as she hustled down the sidewalk, skirting around the bus stop to head down another unfriendly street. As they rounded the corner, Robin nodded towards a bar with the lights still flickering to show they were open, either still or had opened at some point in the morning. It smelled like stale cigarette smoke and urine faintly, even from outside the unpleasant hole in the wall bar. In front of it was a clearly homeless man, sitting with his back to a lamppost and a cardboard sign in hand - dozing or perhaps unconscious. At his feet sat an equally disreputable looking dog, one eyed and looking worse for wear. Robin stepped forward, nudging the man's foot not so gently with her own.

"Hey, you better wake up, old man, or they're going to call and have you checked out by county again," Was Robin's less than gentle statement on the matter as she woke the man up before dropping to her haunches to pet Rufus. 

"Eh... wassat.... Heeeeyyyy, that you, Hawky? Whatcha got for ol' Henry today?" The man's voice had a smoker's gravelly pitch to it as he cracked open watery eyes to blink up first at Robin and then with surprise at the two out-of-place girls behind her, "You got some lost lambs, Hawky?"

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This was all a lot for Casey to take in; the Fens were by far the roughest place she'd ever been, and the sights and smells were all a bit overwhelming. With great effort, she reminded herself that these were just people, who had the same basic needs and desires as anyone else: food, shelter, friendship, love. When Henry asked his question, she laughed nervously. 

"Pretty much, yeah! Hi Henry, I'm Casey." Then she dropped into a crouch and offered her hand for the scruffy dog to sniff and lick. "Hi Rufus!  Who's a good boy?"

She scratched behind his ears, feeling his tangled, matted coat, countless flea bites and signs of malnutrition, and the animal lover in her died a little; she wanted to fly off with him, take him to the vet and a groomer and a new life far from these mean streets. But would that be right? Owner and dog clearly loved each other, and separating two such true companions was just as cruel. Plus she read somewhere that homeless people were often beat up by street toughs for money or even just for fun; Rufus might save Henry's life someday, if he hadn't already.

So Casey just kept scratching the attention-loving pooch behind the ears, smiling warmly as tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. "Good boy...good boy..."

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