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alderwitch

The Silent, The Fallen

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Picking up from the end of Let's Get it Started

On her way out of the awful test from hell, Robin hesitated in her blue and yellow uniform, debating for a moment whether she out to give Riley a bit of time or head directly after him. She could pause and change, but the memory of Riley's stricken expression decided her. Pausing only to grab her worn leather jacket, Robin headed up from Claremont's underground tunnels until she could reach a level where there was window access. There were many weirder sights than a student in a training uniform sprinting through the halls and diving out a window so Robin only garnered an occasional look as she ducked outside and scaled up the side of one of the dormitories to reach the roof. 

She wasn't trying for stealth although her boots weren't all that loud as she landed on the shingles. 

"Riley?" Robin's voice floated out as she straightened up, her concern apparent in her tone.

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Riley was sitting on the roof in the spot where they'd first met, staring blankly at the horizon. He'd known Robin was coming, of course, she'd never been able to sneak up on him before and he certainly was hyper-aware now, eyes darting towards her the moment her head appeared. "Over here." He looked away still, out at Bayview beyond, as Robin joined him on the roof. He'd removed both his bow and hatchet, setting them both against the chimney they usually used as cover for their nocturnal activities. "Maybe I shouldn't be here," he suddenly said, his voice tight with repressed emotion. "Learning how to be a superhero isn't going to help me when I get home." 

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"Sure it could," Robin countered as she adjusted course. Her gaze landed on Riley's profile, her expression a little wary before she headed towards him resolutely. She dropped down next to him gracefully, folding her legs up under her as she dropped. Robin tossed her leather jacket over her lap, almost forgotten. Her hand lifted up, stuttered as if uncertain before she let it drop back to her lap. Touch wasn't always comforting for her, perhaps it wasn't for Riley either. She didn't actually know.  There was rather a lot, it turned out, that Robin didn't know about Riley. "It'll help you here, though, for certain. You deserve to be here, Riley."

She shifted then, twisting so she could watch his profile, "Can... can you tell me about it? The place you come from, I mean? I don't think I really understand it other than it's a lot different from here."

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Riley was silent again, listening to the birds and the wind. "Growing up, the older people in town told me about the old world. About the superheroes who used to guard us, about the city we used to live in, about how it was before the Forest. But it's all I've ever known." He looked over at Robin. "Fifteen years ago, the Forest came. It swept over the world in a single night, destroying everything it touched. Millions of people died when buildings collapsed, when roads buckled, when they were impaled..." He swallowed. "Animals came with the Forest too, big ones, smart ones. I've seen bears that could take human clothes and wear it for a disguise, and I've heard about foxes that could write in English, and wolves that hunt humans more than any other meat. But of course we hunt them too." He smiled thinly. "My first trips out of the compound were for hunting; that's when I made my first bow." 

He looked away, then said quietly, "But that's not the worst part of it. I...my mom told me that when the Forest came, the superheroes told everyone that things would be okay. They headed into the thickest parts of the woods, some of them with super-scientists or magic people, looking for what happened. Regular people went into the woods too; cops, firefighters, rescue people. They went into the woods, and when they came back...when they came back-" He looked back at Robin, pain and remembered fear in his voice. "We call them Ferals, the ones who heard the call of the Maddening Wild. It still happens to people who stay out in the woods too long. Especially people with superpowers. First they get crazy with going out into the woods as deep as possible, running or climbing or flying, fighting off the people that stop them. Sometimes then you can still save them. But if they make it out to the Forest, if they spend a night there, they turn. Their eyes turn yellow, their voices change, their nails grow out like claws. They can't really talk anymore, just growl and curse, but some of them can use tools. And they...they eat people. They'll hunt or forage if they can't see people, but they see people, they'll drop whatever they're doing and they'll die trying to kill and eat a human being. I've seen....I've seen that happen," he admitted. "There's maybe fifteen thousand of us, but there's at least a hundred thousand of them left, all through what used to be Freedom City. That's why Woodsmen learn to be fast, and quiet, and go through the forest so smoothly even the Ferals can't find us. And why we start young. I just turned fourteen when I started."

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"So the people that Freedom City expects to keep them safe became the worst of a bad situation. That's... really, really awful," Robin said baldly. She swallowed once, "And nothing fixes them at all? There's nothing you can do to make them not, you know, crazy evil cannibals?"

Robin didn't flinch away, watching his expressions as he talked about the world he knew. Her grey gaze tracked the muscle twitches and tension in jaw, and neck, and shoulder. It really was awful, but it explained a lot how the test could have set him off, sent him back to that space. Robin reached out finally, uncoiling one hand to touch Riley's forearm with light fingers. She hadn't even taken off the tape around her joints and knuckles from the simulation, "You know, it's not like that here? What happened to your world; it's awful. It's a terrible, terrible tragedy and it sounds like you've done what you had to in order to survive. What you've been trained for? But here, there's no Ferals. Here, heroes don't HAVE to kill. You don't have to, Riley. Not here."

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"People have tried. But all the superheroes are dead, Robin. All the ones who didn't get turned died saving us from the rest. We don't know anything about magic, or super-science. All we can do is forage in the city, and try and keep our power plant running. You know how hard it is to keep a power plant running for fifteen years with no more fuel?" His thin smile died quickly. "People have tried to take in young Ferals and the like, but even newborn babies...whatever happened has already happened to them. They're already gone. They show us that in training." His voice was so quiet now as to be inaudible. "Killing one that's trying to kill you, almost anybody can do that. You have to show you can give one peace even if it's small." He swallowed hard, then said, "I know, okay?! I just...I just forgot." He rubbed his eyes. "I didn't shoot him because I thought it would be funny, dammit. I shot him because I thought he was going to die, because people were dying right then in that...that horrible place. I thought I was saving them."  

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Robin sucked in a breath; a soft, strangled sound as she realized that part of his training had apparently involved demonstrating 'mercy' on small, childlike ferals. For a moment, her throat worked silently as she tried to find phrasing around the horror. 

"Hey, I know that," Robin said finally, the words a little hoarse. She left her fingertips lightly in place on his arm. She let her hand relax until the soft cloth wrapping her palms came into contact with his skin, her fingers circling around the still tense muscles in his forearm, "If I though you thought murder was a joke, well, I wouldn't BE here. This would not be the conversation we'd be having. My folks were murdered. It's not something I really take all that lightly."

Her fingertips squeezed then, the pressure light, "We could see your face, you know, it was almost like you, just, went away. Like you retreated into your head into what ever place you have to go to do really unpleasant things. No one there thought you ENJOYED that. Not even Raina. You know these people don't know what that's like. Most of them don't come from a place where you have to make hard choices. I'm not sure any of us come from a place where you have to make the kind of choices that you did. You know that simulation was designed to push you back there, push your buttons and send you down to your darkest place."

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Riley reached over and put his hand on Robin's, then leaned over until his head was resting against her shoulder. "Sometimes I think I made it up. No one's ever heard of a world like mine - and nobody's even been able to find it. But then I close my eyes at night, or I see something like I did today, and I'm back there in the Forest, and this place, and you, are just a dream..." He squeezed her hand tight, and she heard him take a single, hitching breath and let it out, then silent breathing for a long time. "I'm sorry about your parents. Do you want to talk about it?" She'd already heard about the early death of his father - though he was sure the story of the otherwise-preventable thyroid cancer that had taken his life had now taken on a whole new meaning. 

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Robin's shoulder didn't have the extra padding of her jacket this time so the muscle against his cheek was firm - though not with the too-tightly-wound tension he'd felt in her frame earlier. She shifted, turning her palm up under his hand, listening to the cadence of his voice with only the occasional thoughtful noise of agreement. As the silence stretched on, Robin made no move to break it. She was comfortable in the silences. It was speaking that caused her far more stress than any long silence ever could. As the topic shifted to her parents, the shoulder Riley leaned against tensed before Robin forced it to relax. For a long moment, Robin didn't answer. It seemed like she might not say anything at all until she shifted to drag her leather jacket over with her free hand. Without saying a word, she fished around in the worn jacket until she found the inner pocket. 

With careful fingertips, she pulled a worn picture, torn along one edge, that was safe inside a plastic ziplock bag. Robin held it out towards Riley, still silent, to show him the old family portrait. The man in it was slim, handsome - with skin several shades darker than his daughter but the same light grey eyes. The woman was tall and blonde, standing at least as tall as her husband, possibly taller, with a wide grin. The picture was old as the young girl in her father's arms couldn't have been more than five or six. 

"My folks were mugged in the Fens when I was ten," Robin's voice was low, detached, as if she were reciting names and dates of something in history class, "They never came home. I don't have a lot left from them. They were... They were good people. They deserved something better than what happened." 

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"Sorry." Riley reached over and actually put his arm around her shoulders, hugging her firmly. He wasn't as strong as she was - but he was no weakling, despite his short stature. He'd wondered if they'd ever caught who did it - but figured she probably would have told him if they had. Thinking back, murder in his own community was rare - much less robbery. "People are damn animals sometimes. Especially here." He took the picture carefully. "I wish I had a picture," he admitted quietly. "Hey, I ever tell you I spenta whole week in the Fens?" he asked Robin. "Earlier in da summer. When I took off from Peyton's house, I went for the Fens - 'squiet where I'm from, the ground's all caved in 'n even the Ferals don't go there much. 'Course yours is different."

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"Yeah, it's not quiet," Robin agreed, at least in a voice that sounded more her own. She remained tense for a moment before deliberately - almost cautiously - forcing herself into relaxing into the arm around her shoulders. She turned her head slightly, scrunching down to lean against the shoulder that was offered. "Yeah it's probably pretty different here. Most people don't live in the Fens - not if they can live somewhere else. You get people, you know, misusing drugs and being kind of awful but there's a whole lot of people with no where else to go. My folks - my mom and dad - they worked hard but I don't think they ever managed to get out of there. Its loud and filled with people. There's a lot of crime that happens at night."

Robin paused for a moment before adding, slowly, "It's why I go back there, you know, every weekend. Whenever I can. Somebody... someone has to keep people safe and it's what I do. I mean, it's what I've been doing but Ms. Summers - she, uh, said they'd help me be better at it if I came here." That was a great deal more than Robin had really ever said about herself in one stretch and she ground to a halt at the end, unsure of what to say next. "I'm still not sure they can. I don't like this place most of the time."

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"Somebody's gotta take care of your people, even if no one else gives a damn. Even if nobody even knows they're there." He nodded at her words, finding them perfectly compatible. "School's all right," said Riley with a little shrug. "We eat regular, we sleep in beds, everybody tries to take care of us even if they don't know very much. Lot better'n my Bayview, I'll tell you that much." He said it without the judgmental tone that he might have had with some other Claremont students - Robin actually knew what it meant to go without those things. "Pretty girls are nice too." He smiled faintly, then went on, a faint trace of bitterness in his tone. "Dunno if they'll let me out anytime soon. 'Specially with my bow. But if they do...you ever want company going home?" he asked her. "I can...I can be with people without hurting 'em. 'Cept those guys who messed with the girls on Oregon Street. You hear about that?" The girls on Oregon Street were mostly trans women of color. "Scared 'em out of their car, then put an arrow in the gas tank. That's how Bowman found me."  

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Robin nodded mute agreement, "I just..." I'm afraid to get comfortable. "I know that we're all odd balls here but I still feel like I'm a square peg in a round hole, I guess," Robin amended. She dropped her free hand down to her jeans, plucking the loose threads from the hole that was starting to wear through in the knee. She smiled at his story and agreed, "That was definitely a deserved car destruction. Those guys had it coming to them. It's like the guys I beat up. They're always coming around and starting trouble for everyone around them. So, I just even the score. Teach them what its like not to be on top and then dump 'em at the police station. I mean, at least I can protect someone else's family that way, right?"

She gave a little shake of her head then, her curls bouncing around her face with the gesture before she pushed them back. Robin made a mental note to see if she could trade something for getting her hair re-braided. It was getting unmanageable even with a handkerchief knotted to keep it from her face. She bumped her shoulder against his. "Hey." Robin said. "I trust you, Riley. If you want, I'll help you get used to fighting the way we do here. And yeah... yeah, you can come see the Fens sometime with me if you wanna. The roof tops aren't as nice but, well, I'd show you 'round. If you wanted."

It was delivered deliberately casually, her finger tips still plucking at the thread of her jeans. Robin had never volunteered to show anyone where she came from - although she had given an impromptu tour once to friends that had followed. It wasn't a pretty place and it wasn't a pretty story and Robin knew that some of it had made it into the rumor mill. "I don't... You know I don't have a house, right? Or an apartment?"

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"I don't like predators," said Riley, frank emotion in his voice. "Human beings, where I'm from, we've all learned to work together. We have bad guys sometimes, but people don't just...hurt each other the way they do here." He smiled faintly at Robin. "You don't have a house, I don't have a world. That's a fair deal. And hey, afterwards, I could always take you over to Riley and Peyton's house after that. They'd probably be happy to see I have a girlfriend." He snorted, and looked away. "If I can't show you my place, I'll be happy to see yours. Especially since Summers won't be watching us there the way she does in your dorm room." 

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"I just call them bullies. It's the same thing, really," Robin agreed, relaxing now that the hard offer was out of the way. She smoothed her fingertips over the hole she'd worried in the worn spot of her jeans, "I know your world has a lot of flaws but... must be nice to know you're never really alone. People are so alone here. If you don't have family, you just get left with no one."

Robin winced, her touch landing lightly and nervously on his hand, "Sorry! You really don't have anyone here either, I know. We'll have to sneak out though. They're probably not going to want to let you leave for a bit but it's not so hard to sneak off if you time it right. You're really good at hiding. I know that it... it was awful at the end but the sneaking around you did was pretty bad ass."

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"Thanks," said Riley, reaching over to put his hand lightly on top of hers. "I thought I was gonna break my neck when my hatchet slipped off the line there at the end!" he admitted. "Guess I'd have just hit the floor." He grinned slightly. "Sometimes I can be too sneaky. One time last year, I was tracking deer at HIT when no less than six freaking bears come along and bed down right underneath my tree. I could arrow a couple of them, but then the rest would start ganging up to push the tree over, or lay in wait for me when I climbed down. I spent half the day in my blind watching them scratch each other's backs till they wandered off and I had to make my own way back." He grinned. "Finally did catch that deer, though, and that was pretty nice."  

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"Despite how much the whole thing sucked, I am still pretty sure they're not going to let us get killed in training. I don't think super heroes would send their kids here if they did that on any sort of regular basis. There would be complaints," Robin replied with a small grin of her own, pleased that she'd managed to help Riley out of his funk at least for the moment. She placed the brunt of blame for things on the adults who should have known better, frankly. 

"So, are the deer crazy smart too? I mean, I don't know a lot about the wilderness but I am pretty sure our bears don't work together like that." Robin wanted to know, thinking briefly it would be weird to eat food if you knew it was almost human smart. 

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"Sometimes. Older people say the animals are gettin' smarter, like the smart ones are the ones doing all the breedin'." He shrugged. "There were enough deer in Wharton back before the Forest that deer are still pretty dumb, though. Deer's pretty good; better'n bear." He raised his hands and started gesturing, glad to find himself talking about something he understood. "Wolf and fox taste like crap, though. For wild stuff, the best meat is herbivore meat - squirrel, deer, stuff like that. Meat that's been eating other meat usually isn't that good." He grinned ruefully. "Don't have a lot of people I can talk 'bout hunting with. Matt, uh, doesn't like that kinda stuff. I think it's a death thing." 

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"I don't know anything about it," Robin admitted easily. She'd never really been outside the city, "So it's interesting to hear about. I don't really have anything to, you know, compare it to? The only thing I've ever hunted are rats and they taste terrible regardless of how burned or not they are. I'm not good at catching them either so it's easier to, you know, find restaurants that are just throwing good foot out. I mean, its gross, but you have to eat when you have to eat."

Robin said that phlegmatically, a shrug of her shoulders punctuating the statement, "And a lot of places do. It's better if you can catch it right at the right time so you don;'t have to dig too much because then its less likely to be good."

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"Rats eat crap, they taste like crap." Riley shrugged to match Robin, then turned to look at her, reaching over to gently stroke her hair. "Whatever we find, we'll handle it," he promised her. He grinned at her, feeling far away from the grief and rage of not that long ago, before leaning in and giving her a long, slow kiss that lingered on and on. This really was a lot better than talking - even now that they'd talked about the important things. Riley had had a few experiences with girls back home, both before and after his transition, enough that he could tell himself that he was confident and sure as his arms went around Robin and his hands rested on the muscular small of her back. 

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Robin relaxed further, the touch on her back was becoming familiar - but in a pleasant way. She appreciated how Riley telegraphed his intentions. It wasn't that she'd really say anything from his background was good, per say, but that he'd had enough experience with all of his world to understand that not all surprises were good. This time, she didn't have to force her muscles to relax at human contact but did so naturally as she turned towards him, reaching up to touch the side of his face as their lips touched. Kissing was easier, Robin thought, than talking although she couldn't deny that clearly relationships required at least some of the former. If she'd have asked, she'd have known enough earlier to have done something. Or at least, Robin told herself it would have made the difference. 

After a moment, her other hand came up tentatively to land on Riley's ribs, hesitating before her hand flattened against his side, her fingers curled along his waist. Robin pulled back then - just a little - to catch her breath and say, "If there's anything you don't want me to - you know - touch, you can tell me?" She offered, the words a little uncertain but the muscles under his fingertips remained relaxed. Progress. She offered a small smile, "I like kissing you, though. A lot."

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"I, uh..." Riley was squirming at her touch, not unpleasantly, his nerves pulled to the point of anticipation. "I never, uh, I never thought about that," he admitted. "On the one hand, I want you to touch me everywhere," he admitted, his voice rough with emotion. "But..." He laughed softly and leaned closer, pressing his forehead against hers. "That's maybe not a good idea right now..." He kissed her again, hard, nipping lightly at her lip. They'd probably get in trouble if they were caught kissing up here, especially after earlier that day, but he didn't care at all. "So why don't you just touch me wherever you want, and I'll tell you if it's right? If I can do the same thing, that is," he added, smiling with his teeth. 

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Robin let out a relieved sigh, her breath soft against his cheek as she flattened her hand to curve around Riley's rib cage once there was approval in his voice. "I like touching you," Robin admitted, the smile in her voice clear, "And you don't have to... I mean, I'm not saying we have to do anything more but I just. I don't want to make you uncomfortable ever." Her fingers trailed up along his ribs, the touch slow and careful but no longer hesitant. Robin leaned in to press a kiss of her own to his jaw, "I mean, yeah, it's daylight and someone's probably going to come looking for you in short order as I went out the window to get here first.. but yeah, of course you can. If I want you to stop, I'll just tell you." She pulled back a little then, looking at him with intent grey eyes, her gaze searching his features for something before she said, the words very quiet - like they meant more than most people typically meant them, "I trust you."

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"You don't make me feel uncomfortable - you make me...feel," said Riley, leaning in for a long kiss, mirroring her hands on his body with his own. He slid his hands down her back, tracing the outline of her spine, stopping just above her waistband. He planted kisses down her jawline and onto her shapely, well-toned neck - and was just about to go further when suddenly his phone vibrated. As much as Riley really wanted to just continue kissing Robin and see where things led to, some habits of obedience had been bred into him from an early age. He picked up the phone and flipped it open (it was not an expensive model) to look at the texted message within. "Looks like I have to go meet with Dr. Marquez. And then probably Archer, and maybe Summers too..." He muttered a curse and snapped the phone shut. "We'll finish this later," he promised her, his eyes dark as he looked at her. "And I trust you, too." 

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Robin sat back as Riley pulled away, catching her weight on her palms behind her. She offered a small grin at her boyfriend, "Tell Archer off for me," she suggested as she'd not really forgotten nor forgiven her own failed test. Her smile widened, "I'm kidding. Don't do that. You don't need more time in detention - especially not if we're ever getting off of campus again."

She rolled to her feet as he rose up, with an easy grace as she scooped up her treasured jacket in hand, "I'm going to hit the showers anyway and make sure no one swipes my clothes. I just left 'em in the changing room." She leaned forward, pressing a kiss against his smooth cheek before heading for the roof ledge, a promise in her grey eyes, "Later it is then."

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