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October 2015 

Riley was alone in the gym for now; just the way he liked it. He'd even changed for the occasion, down to the binder and green and brown costume that were the minimum level of clothes he was willing to be seen in while walking around the school. On the obstacle course near one side of the ample gym, he took a moment to wrap his hands before beginning his run. First came the low wall of padded foam, which he vaulted with contemptuous ease, then the elevated, irregularly placed blocks that were equally no obstacle to him as he went. 

He vaulted to the balancing bridge without so much as touching the matted gym floor and made his way along at a dead run, eyes open and ears wide as he went. This was easy - here he was in minimal clothing, with no gear. Later he'd do it the hard way; gather up his clothes and his bow from where he'd left them neatly folded in one corner of the gym, and do it that way, but for now he was content to warm up. He had a long evening ahead of him in here - if he was lucky. 

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Aníbal entered the gym in his usual work out clothes, carrying a small black gym bag. He wore a plain black hoodie with the logo of a premium Italian sports brand discretely placed on the sleeve, a plain cotton t-shirt, track pants with a pair of golden stripes on the side of the legs and a pair of expensive-looking basketball shoes. A fitness tracker was strapped around his left wrist. He was always the athletic type, and the advent of his powers did not make him slack off on his exercise regimen. Even if he had formidable powers over the air, it was still important to keep himself in peak physical condition. Besides, he enjoyed physical exertion, the feeling of being in command of one's body. He looked around, quietly impressed by the sight. Claremont's gym was very well equipped, with equipment tailored to the needs of its diverse student body. It was bigger and better equipped than the gym at his old school. Not even his father's private gym could compare. He looked for a good spot to put his things, and spotted a crossbow placed near some neatly folded clothing. It brought a smile to his face. Riley was around, it seemed. He hadn't seen much of the boy since the unfortunate exercises a few weeks back. This would be a good opportunity to get to know the enigmatic young hunter, perhaps cement a proper friendship. He laid his gym bag next to Riley's things and went to look for him, following the sounds of movement coming from the other side of the room. 

He finally found him at the obstacle course, which Riley was navigating with almost trivial ease. As Riley traversed the balancing bridge, he didn't call out to him or make his presence known in any way, not wanting to disturb his concentration. He just watched, admiring the young man's wiry athleticism and acrobatic poise and waiting for an opportunity to catch his attention. When the opportunity presented itself, he greeted the Woodsman with a friendly wave of the hand and a smile.

"Hey, Riley!", he said, walking closer to the obstacle course, "Glad I ran into you. Nice work on the course, by the way."

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"Thanks." Riley didn't so much as start at Anibal's arrival, standing at the top of the apex ladder and judging the distance to the next one. After a moment's consideration, he turned and started moving smoothly backwards down the ladder at a pace equal to a jog. He was glad the way Anibal had spoken to him - he'd gotten enough flinching from the other teens for his taste. "You should see me do it the hard way." He turned and jogged over towards Anibal, looking the other boy up and down. "You gonna use this?" he asked, shooting a glance back at the obstacle course. He sounded impressed - and he was! Knowing the other boy's powers, it'd be easy enough for him to fly over it entirely. "I'm just starting, but it's got room for us to take turns." Sharing resources in a confined space was something he understood instinctively.

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Aníbal was glad he caught Riley in a good mood. Without the tension of the testing environment, conversation could be more relaxed, more open. There was surely more to Riley than the grim determination the boy carried almost like a form of armor. He turned his eyes towards the obstacle course after Riley suggested taking turns on it. He pondered it for a few moments before deciding against it. The bits he could easily pass on his own strength were too trivial to be much of a workout, and the bits that were trickier were a distraction: he could indeed fly over the whole assemblage with ease. This was Riley's turf, not his.

"Pfft... Naah, I don't think so", he replied. It was clear the dismissal was targeted at the course, not at Riley, or even Riley's suggestion. 

"This...", he added, as the air around him moved and propelled him about 10 feet upwards, "Really isn't my main problem." From his vantage point, he surveyed the gym hoping to spot the machines necessary for his daily training routine. One of them, the chest press machine, was near the obstacle course. 

"I'm going to hit the machines, mostly.", he told Riley from above, "Maybe I can keep you company during the breaks. Just a sec, forgot something..." 

He flew off towards the corner of the room and soon returned, his hoodie off, a white towel slung over his shoulder and a bottle of energy drink in his hand. He landed next to the chest press machine, adjusted the weights, and sat down on it, placing the bottle at the side and laying the towel over the seat beforehand.

"Sorry...", he continued with a smile, "I figured it's only fair I do some showing off too."

He sat back in the chair and began to rhythmically press the handles forward and pull them back.

"So... How have you been?", he asked between reps. Aníbal was aware that rumours of the ill-fated training session circulated through the school over the past weeks, inflated and distorted through the usual process of gossip into even greater grotesques. He hated this aspect of social life, and particularly hated the fact Riley was the one bearing the brunt of it, even though all of them had underperformed in Archer's weird little mind games. Hopefully a friendly chat could reassure Riley he wasn't alone at Claremont. 


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"Hmph." Well, even if Anibal wasn't as cool as Riley thought, it was nice to know he wasn't the only person who cared about the condition of his body. "Been all right. Gotta a date with Robin soon - gonna see where she's from." He headed over to where he'd left his gear as he talked, pulling first his poncho, then buckling on his crossbow. "You know, nothin' wrong with learning how to manuever even without yer powers. Someday you're not gonna have 'em, and then what are ya gonna do?" He wanted to just leave it at that - but seemed unfair to brag about his own life if he didn't ask after Anibal's. "How 'bout you? Raina ever finish pukin'?" 

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"Oh. That's nice", Aníbal remarked as Riley mentioned a date with Robin. Those two seemed made for each other, and it was clear the girl cared for him deeply. He continued his exercise as Riley went to get the rest of his gear, taking a brief pause after every 15 reps on the machine. When Riley returned, he had just finished a set and took a sip of his energy drink. He hummed, the bottle still on his lips, as Riley chided him for his lack of foresight. The young man had a point, of course. He had gotten used to his powers, but the prospect of losing them in a combat situation and having to rely on his normal abilities wasn't a pleasant one. Without his unusual gift, he was merely an ordinary teenage boy, albeit one in excellent physical shape. He put down the bottle and looked at Riley with a quizzical expression.

"Thanks for the advice. Wait... Learning... You're not a hologram, are you? Is this real?", he teased with a smile and looked upwards to the ceiling, "Is this another test? Constant vigilance? You pendejos!"

He leaned back on the seat and resumed the exercise with a laugh. "Sorry... I'm sure that scenario will pop up in combat training. It's exactly the sort of thing they'd pull. I'll deal with it then. Right now I just want to relax a bit.", he continued, "I mean, no offense. I've seen the way you move, it's amazing. But if I lose my powers, a brick wall is going to be the least of my troubles. Maybe we can do some sparring later, if they have the facilities for it here. You know... Mano a mano. See how good you are without your fancy crossbow."

14... 15. He sat up and stretched. "Me, I'm doing pretty well. Had quite a little adventure a few days after the test. Did you see it on the news? The airliner that landed in the bay? That was me. Well, and two other people.", he replied to Riley's question, "As for Raina, she's just fine. She recovered from the shock pretty fast. Don't worry... It just caught her by surprise, she didn't mean what she said."

Edited by TheRedGuy
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"Usually use the hatchet when I don't have the bow," said Riley with a tight little smile. "Figure you don't wanna fight me with that yet. You do that special combat training at the dojo?" As he spoke, Riley had begun the obstacle course again - this time starting in the middle, painstakingly climbing his way up the low-hanging rope. It wasn't easy in full gear - especially if you did Riley's way with said hatchet gripped tightly in one hand. At the top of the rope, he began the slow, careful dance of swinging from one rope to the other, all without losing his balance or betraying too much vibration in the ropes below. 

"Saw that thing with the airliner," he admitted, "that was pretty cool!" Riley had never actually been on an airplane himself, but as he swung from rope to rope, far above the matted gym floor, he decided his own version of flying was still pretty fun. "My combat training's gotten a lot more, uh, pointed. Guys with hostages, mind-controlled people, freakin' shapeshifters," at the last word, he let go of the rope and fell, fast and hard, staging a roll as he landed that let him duck away from the damage of falling some fifteen feet to the matted floor below. "Think Archer's trying to send me a message. Jerk," he opined. "Like I've never been in a fight before." 

He hmmed, listening to the conversation about Raina. "Yeah, glad she's all right. She's a nice girl. That must have shook her up pretty bad." 

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Aníbal was focused on his exercise, but he had casually followed Riley's path through the obstacle course in full gear, his eyebrows raising as the youth pulled off a 15 foot fall unharmed. Watching him traverse the course was quite the spectacle. Poetry in motion, Aníbal thought. He was short, but built tough and graceful like a mountain lion, the result of a lifetime spent... doing what, exactly? He realised he had little idea of Riley's life before his arrival to Claremont, only the barest scraps of information. He was from another world, one like our own but dramatically different, one where those trees he saw in the exercise simulation swallowed human civilisation, leaving a vast wilderness in its place. Aníbal couldn't begin to imagine what that life must have been like, and what the rigors of growing up in such a world would do to your mind and body. 

He had listened to Riley's lament about his combat training with sympathy, the mention of shapeshifters in particular eliciting a grunt of commiseration. His own training focused on practicing the use of his powers, keeping himself sharp, but there was often a twist involved. Archer had a knack for isolating your weak spot and hitting it remorselessly. The scenarios tripped him up a few times, but he did alright. 

He nodded when Riley talked about Raina. "She's tougher than she looks. But yeah, not everyone is used to that sort of thing...", he remarked, resuming his exercise.

"As for the training...", he continued, pushing and pulling the handles, "I think that's kind of the point. They know you can cut down whatever they throw at you, so they try to mess with your head, get at you where you're weakest. Me... Archer got me with the honeypot, and a sniper and an invisible guy. I think he's trying to get you to develop new habits. Teach you what you're up against here is different than what you're used to... wherever you're from."

The conversation was getting a bit too heavy for Aníbal's taste. In truth, he knew little about either the tactical side of combat or the exact nature and purpose of the exercises they were given. Very little at Claremont was straightforward. And besides, he wanted to get past Riley's almost military discipline and try to get the boy to loosen up a bit.

"But... Never mind all that", he tried to change the subject, "I hope you haven't been spending all your time fighting fake shapeshifters. Have you been to the City yet? Raina promised me we'd go see the sights when they let us have a Saturday off. You should come along, bring Robin too if she wants. They have a saying here in the US: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

13... 14... 15. He sat up and grabbed his drink, wiping the sweat off his brow with the other hand.

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"Yeah, all right," said Riley, hesitating a moment as he processed Anibal's offer. Huh. Guess Raina wasn't as put off as I thought. Maybe he owed the lanky girl an apology. "I get out in the City sometimes. Hard without my gear, but I can do it." He looked over at Anibal, then did two quick laps, running through the obstacle course's mock window frame, vaulting through the narrow space and back and forth - and then suddenly grabbing the frame and leaping upwards to stand on his hands, his strong arms supporting his body weight as he held himself upside down right in the middle of the obstacle course. "Where do you like?

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"Good, glad to hear it", Aníbal said cheerfully as Riley reluctantly agreed to the idea, "It'll do you good to relax a bit." Before he could continue, Riley was at the obstacle course again, performing a series of rapid leaps through the frame. Aníbal simply observed him, taking an occasional sip of energy drink. He raised an appreciative eyebrow as Riley executed a picture-perfect handstand on top of the window frame. 

"Where... Raina mentioned Pyramid Plaza, Freedom Park, the theaters...", he rattled off the places he remembered from their conversation in response to Riley's query, "But it depends. Any place in particular you'd like to visit?".

He put down the bottle and started another set on the machine, waiting for Riley's answer.

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"Friend of mine told me about this great fish place down by the river. We could go there, get some catfish, then hit that old movie theater. They're showing, uh, Everest, that looked pretty cool." He tilted his head as he balanced, figuring that at least it would have nothing to do with Freedom City - everyone would be on an even playing field. Slowly and with great care, muscles in his shoulder straining, he reached back and undid the snaps on his crossbow, catching the weapon one-handed as it came loose. Balancing it on the frame, the still-upside down teen, his arm screaming with the weight he was putting on it, took careful aim at a stretch of cinderblock on a nearby wall of the gym. "Ladies...dig...movies..." He fired the arrow and the flat-headed bolt hit the painted wall right at a joint between two blocks, bouncing off with a faint tink without actually breaking. 

With a gasp, he rolled onto his feet - and slowly made his way over to retrieve the fallen bolt. "Nice. Hit it straight on." 

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Riley's idea of a fun outing was... well, it was something. Aníbal cocked an eyebrow at the mention of getting some catfish straight from the river. Clearly, he thought, the boy wasn't keen on getting out of his comfort zone just yet. The movie suggestion made him crack a smile. It wasn't surprising Riley would find the tale of strong men fighting for their lives amidst an inhospitable environment to be relatable, but the idea of it as a date movie was quite amusing. Then again, Robin was the sort of girl you'd take to a movie about rugged survivalism. Raina, on the other hand... Aníbal didn't know if she'd appreciate the outdoorsy adventures Riley had in mind, but it remained an option. He continued to count off his reps as Riley aimed a perfect shot at some cinderblocks on the wall. 13, 14, 15. That was it for the chest press.

"Nice shot...", he remarked, suitably impressed by Riley's skills. As the boy went to retrieve his projectile, he sat up, wiped his face with the towel and took a sip of his energy drink. 

"So, uh... catfish, huh?", he continued hesitantly, "You mean like a... camping trip, no? That could be fun. I don't know how clean the river is though... But if your friend says it's a good spot, I guess it's clean enough. Never really been fishing before."

He stood up and stretched for a few moments before taking to the air again, looking for the next machine for his exercise plan. 

"And yeah, girls do like movies. Usually, though, they prefer movies that aren't about beardy men climbing mountains and suffering horrible accidents. At least for dates.", he continued, hovering over the obstacle course. It struck him that there was an enormous amount of movies Riley had never seen. Books probably survived the apocalypse, but it was highly unlikely multiplexes did. He probably didn't get a lot of references. Maybe a movie marathon night would be nice, he thought, to help him acclimate better to teen culture in this reality. "But don't worry... Robin doesn't really strike me as a romantic comedy kind of girl, and I'm sure Raina will like it too... Ah, there it is."

He flew away from the obstacle course, landing next to the chest fly machine. It was a little farther away, but close enough to maintain a comfortable conversation with Riley. That's convenient, Aníbal thought as he placed his towel over the seat.

"Okay. I mean... Sounds good to me.", he said, beginning his first set on the machine, "I just thought you might like to, y'know... get out of your comfort zone a little. See a little more of what this world has to offer."

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"Naw, man," said Riley with a laugh. "I'm talking about, what is it, Bob's Catfish House. I talked to Wander, you know, the one the fighting kids all talk about?" He grinned. "She says that place is the best by the school - cheap, too. If I wanted to catch something myself, I'd go catch it and cook it up for Robin in the kitchen. Anyway, I figure the other thing with the movie is that's super-exciting, so the girls will get real tense," Riley felt an odd twinge at those words, but shook it off. He was trying to act like a man, dammit, which was what he knew in his bones he was, "and maybe they'll want some company. If ya know what I mean." 

He took a moment to open a water bottle he'd left in his poncho pocket and took the chance to take a few hard swallows. "You ever have catfish? They're in the river where I'm from, but most of 'em are scared off by all the boats here."

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"Bob's Catfish Hou... Oh... Oh, a rest... OH!", Aníbal paused his exercise and replied, his voice getting louder and louder until he smacked himself on the forehead with his palm and trailed off into rapid-fire Spanish. Riley could probably make out the word "estupido" among the barrage. He buried his face in his hands and groaned at his silly mistake. Clearly, he made some rather patronising assumptions about Riley, who was adjusting to life in this dimension a lot better than it seemed. The fish place by the river wasn't a fishing spot, it was a restaurant.  

"Sorry, I thought... because you're such a... it's a... Ugh, see, even I'm making assumptions about you. Sorry.", he awkwardly apologised to Riley. "Sounds good. Bob's Catfish House it is, then." Bob's Catfish House, Aníbal pondered the name of the establishment. It sounded like a family restaurant, one of those no-frills places with good old-fashioned plain cooking. He could go for that. 

He smirked as Riley revealed his diabolical master plan to manipulate the girls. "Yeeaah...", he drew out the word, signaling a considerable degree of skepticism, "I'm not sure tense is the best state to have a date in. And if a girl figures out you're playing some kind of trick on her...". He didn't finish the sentence, allowing Riley to imagine the consequences himself. Aníbal knew better than to try and pull any sort of similar stunt on Raina.

"You can't force it to happen on your terms, man.", he continued, then shrugged and continued his exercise on the machine.

"Yes, I have. Fried catfish, in Poland.", he replied to Riley's question, "Papa went there once on business, we came along too. It was really good. Although I think European catfish are bigger than here. Probably taste different too."

7, 8, 9...

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"Hmm." Riley didn't comment on that for a moment, instead taking a moment just to watch Huracan at work. "Not a trick," he said after some consideration. "Just a way 'a havin' fun." He started climbing the obstacle course's balance bridge - not from above but from below, leaping up one-handed to grab on, then slowly making his way down the line. This time he had his hatchet in his hand rather than the bow, but that didn't seem too slow him down as he made his way along the bridge, deliberately not pulling himself up. Raising his voice, he called, "Never had a date like you do here! Can't just take the girls huntin' or shootin', not till we can get out inna forest..." He dropped to the ground again, taking a moment to catch his breath. "Never thought the woods were that roman'ic anyway."

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