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alderwitch

Restless Nights and Hollow Days

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Robin wasn't exactly a difficult roommate to have been paired with. Her side of the room was largely devoid of any sign of her presence when she wasn't there. It was only recently that she'd started to keep her extra pair of jeans and a few worn-thin t-shirts folded up in her dresser. Everything else tended to remain inside the faded black backpack that was her constant companion. Her bed had the spare sheets and blanket that Claremont provided without any additional touches from home like most of the other student's rooms held. For her part, Robin tried to keep her midnight wanderings too a minimum but even the rise and fall of a roommate's breathing did little to cut the silence that the dorm room in Bayview seemed filled with to one who was used to dozing on rooftops in the middle of the Fens. 

This time, when bad dreams started Robin awake, she woke with a soft intake of sudden breath, rolling out of bed to land in a wary crouch on the floor. It always took her a moment to re-orient. A few weeks had not been yet enough time to grow used to waking up some place safe.

Robin rose to her feet in the dark. She was largely dressed - Robin generally went to bed in her clothes. She'd only recently started taking off her sneakers and she fumbled for them in the dark to slip them over her socks before reaching for her jacket. The belt clanked softly as she pulled it from the bedpost it hung off of. Clearly she wasn't getting any more sleep tonight and Robin didn't want to wake up her roommate.

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A murmur from the bed on the other side of the room suggested that she'd been less than successful on that count. Unlikely as it was Winifred had some to Claremont with even fewer possessions than Robin but for someone who was so exacting in the presentation of her appearance she'd proven to be much less tidy about her living and working space. One wall was very nearly covered in sheets of loose leaf paper filled with notes and equations in the time-displaced alchemist's immaculate handwriting while the ever-changing pile of books at the foot of her bed consistently remained at the maximum number a student was allowed to check out of the library at one time.

Sitting up in a shapeless cream coloured nightgown with brown trim, the shorter girl reached about groggily for a moment before finding her cane and raising it like a club in both hands, looking about the darkened room with mussed black hair in her eyes. "Robin...?" Even half-asleep Winifred kept her voice level and precisely enunciated but her roommate had gotten a good enough idea of her baseline tone to recognize a note of muted alarm in the call.

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"I'm sorry," Robin said with a sigh, pausing in pulling on her leather jacket to wince. She wasn't used to sharing space with another person but generally tried to not put people out with her behavior. The fact that she couldn't seem to shake a few years of nocturnal life style in a matter of weeks wasn't something that Robin felt her roommate should have to put up with. Finishing the aborted movement, she finished sliding her jacket onto her shoulders, "There's nothing to worry about. I just... I couldn't sleep. Again. I'm sorry. I was trying not to wake you but I'm not used to putting my shoes on in the dark."

Mentally resolving to go back to wearing shoes to bed, Robin finished pulling her curly hair out from under the neck of the jacket and reaching up to tighten the bandanna that held back her hair, "Everything's alright. If you want to just go back to bed, I can go walk it off until I think I can sleep some more. I'm not going to let anything in to get you, I promise. We're all safe. You can sleep."

To most people, it probably sounded like an odd thing to say but safety was not something Robin took for granted when she slept and she hadn't yet really been able to shift over to the mindset of people who did.

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"Mmh, no, thank you. I'm quite awake now myself," Winifred replied, stifling a yawn that somewhat undercut her assertion. Realistically going back to sleep probably would have been smarter; the consequences when she was poorly rested and tetchy were somewhat more severe than for most people but it rankled her to be treated like a glass doll. Perhaps more like a glass beaker filled with a combustible liquid, she mused silently as she set her cane aside and reached for her hair brush instead, part of the pack of toiletries they'd each been given by the school. Running it through her long hair starting with the right side she squinted to make out her roommate's silhouette in the dark. "I wouldn't wish to keep you from it but... we could talk, if you'd like?" Robin had been uncommonly kind to her since their meeting in the museum, particularly with regards to patiently correcting some of the Victorian's social faux pas and Winifred rather thought she owed it to the other girl to at least offer. "Something is bothering you?"

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"Oh, well. No more than usual, I guess." Robin paused and then slowly eased back down onto her bed, the springs creaking slightly as she settled her weight on the edge. "My--" Robin cut off the word 'home', quickly amending, "--Where I'm from isn't really like this. I mean, it's not like your adjustment or Riley's, but it's sometimes hard to sleep because I expect things to be louder. There's a lot more noise and I'm used to sleeping - napping, really - during the day time. It's nothing, really. It's not like I'm having to learn a bunch of completely new stuff, or anything. I guess I'm just not someone who adjusts as easily to change as I thought."

Robin laced her fingers together, holding them between her knees as she idly ran her fingertips over the back of one faint scar. She added, the words a little rueful, "I'm sort of awful at talking about most things, actually. What do you want to talk about?"

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Pausing in her hair brushing for a moment Winifred reached over to turn on the reading lamp on her nightstand when it became clear that Robin would just as soon have continued to conversation with only the faint illumination of the digital alarm clock. "Sleeping habits are so easily disturbed," she agreed understandingly. It didn't escape her notice that Robin framed the trouble sleeping as some sort of personal failing and while that didn't seem a particularly healthy attitude she could certainly empathize with holding oneself to high standards. "I've seen little enough of the fu-- the present day to accurately speak to ambient noise. Frankly everything is... 'off' by enough that it's difficult to pinpoint any one thing at times." That sounded a little too much like she was making things into a competition once she said it out loud and she coughed lightly while buying herself a moment by returning to brushing her hair.

"I didn't have a subject in mind, precisely, but we're sharing a room like sisters, it seems as though we ought to be able to at least carry a conversation now and then," she proposed with a rueful smile that made it clear that this wasn't necessarily her forte, either. "Uhm. Things are going well with your... suitor?" Winifred wasn't sure if that was the correct term any more and regretted venturing into the potentially tricky topic almost immediately but Smith was one of the few things she actually knew about Robin.

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"Riley?" Robin asked, a smile coming to her features and easing some of the tension. She shifted on the bed, her shoulders dropping a little from the usual almost tight way Robin carried herself to something more natural. "Most people say boyfriend or girlfriend these days," she offered, clearly not offended by the anarchistic term but offering the advice more if Winifred cared to correct her speech patterns, "Things are good, yeah, between us at least. The teachers still have him a little locked down while he, ah, adjusts more to this world than the one he's used to."

There was a slight note in Robin's tone of not quite apology, but concern. Robin knew the adjustment wasn't an easy one to make and wasn't, certainly, without its struggles. "I'm just not used to talking to people so much. The last few years I've been more or less on my own and, I guess, carrying on a normal conversation is a skill that gets rusty if you stop using it. But Riley and I are good - sometimes we sit up on the roof top and he points out the stars he used to navigate by - when we can see 'em at least. It's nice...." Robin trailed off, the pause awkward before she offered, "What about you? How's adjusting to all of this going for you?"

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It seemed impolitic to clarify that whether 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend' was the correct term to use in this specific instance was part of Winifred's confusion. Still, it seemed straightforward enough to follow Robin's example and refer to Riley using male language, regardless of what she'd overheard from gossiping students around the Academy. "Well, when simply mentioning him makes you smile, that seems a good sign. I'm glad." She switched sides and continued to brush her hair. "He often seems... disappointed to see me but I suspect he simply does not want a chaperone," the alchemist added sardonically. She'd take disappointed over the looks she got from many of their other classmates.

"Not as quickly as I'd like," she admitted to answer her roommate's question. Winifred shifted about uncomfortably, her legs still under her bed sheets and for a few moments seemed reluctant to meet Robin's eyes. "Bad enough to suddenly be an idiot child who doesn't know the first thing about the sciences by the standards of the day but it feels as though every time I open my mouth someone reacts as though I'd very politely offered them a cup of jaguar blood for afternoon tea. I am accustomed to thinking of myself as quite the progressive." Her smile was tight and obviously forced but she kept in place with the best of her composure.

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"Aw, hey, look," Robin shifted uncomfortably on the bed at her roommate's discomfit and then folded her legs up, tailor style under on the bed as if she were finally settling in to be comfortable. Unlacing her hands, Robin spread her palms wide. She did not have delicate hands although they weren't overly large. Rather the knuckles had been flattened from pugilism and calloused from climbing. They were the hands of worker from Fred's day - or a fighter - but she gestured with a deftness and grace despite that, growing more animated as she warmed to her subject, "No one in the world could catch up in a week or two. You're doing great for all you're having to take in, and anyone who thinks otherwise is just judging you without getting that. No one's perfect. Honestly, most of these kids are nice, and well meaning, but they don't try half so hard to figure out what the right thing is. They just assume they know it."

Robin shrugged and then gestured to herself, "I mean, look at me for example. These white, middle class kids look at me and they see a thug - or a charity case. They either pity me, or they're afraid of me. But most of 'em don't know a darn thing about me and just make a whole lot of assumptions. You ask. You try. No one can ask for more than that from anyone, really. What's that quote... the one about there being no stupid questions?"

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"That seems like an expression devised in response to a stupid question," Winifred drawled, managing a more genuine smile as she finished with her hair and set aside the brush. Robin had noticed that the smaller girl made a ritual of thoroughly brushing her hair each day though whether that was out of particular concern for her that facet of her appearance or just because it was one of the few routines still available to her was hard to say. "Regardless, you are a delight and anyone disagreeing is welcome to take up that matter with me." She sniffed decisively with the straight-backed posture that said that she'd made up her mind and was resolute. Her roommate might have been a bit rough in some aspects but she'd proven herself more honest, patient and kind than many of their more polished classmates.

Shoulders slumping very slightly, Winifred added, "If they should be afraid of anyone, I would it think it should be me but the more common reaction seems to be testing the limits of my self-control." She tried to keep her voice dryly amused but there was a point where the provocative comments and 'accidental' collisions in the hallways began to wear. "And I rather am a target of charity, by any reasonable definition, hm?"

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"Well, sure, so am I but needing charity and being a 'charity case' are two different things. It's like, ah, pity without being able to have empathy. So giving things to you makes 'em feel good but it isn't what you actually might need. It's about them, not about you. It happens a lot, you get people wanting to 'clean up the streets' where I live but it usually just means shuffling people out of the way so they're just not seen." Robin realized she was warming to her subject, her tone growing more passionate. She caught herself, a little embarrassed as she gave a shake of her head, "Sorry, I'm getting off topic."

Resettling on the edge of her bed, Robin laced her fingers together once more in front of her, like it would remind her to stop gesturing, "Well, its all just rumor. No one but Hannah, Cathy, Raina and I really saw it and so people probably think if we were okay, they'd be fine. Superhero kids seem to be over confident by nature but just ignore 'em. They'll let it go and fixate on some other piece of gossip. There seems to be no shortage of that in this place."

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Winifred's expression turned thoughtful at Robin's heated words, brow furrowing in the particular way it did whenever she was mulling over a problem from various angles. Her preconceptions about the nature of poverty had certainly been challenged since she'd been awoken in the museum and she considered her roommate's perspective invaluable on the subject. Robin seemed to have a grasp of cause and effect as it related to societal issues that appealed to the alchemist in roughly the same way as reading about a new chemical reaction in a rare tome. Any time the topic came up she had Winifred's complete attention through the shorter girl had so far managed to refrain from actually taking notes.

As the Fens native shied away from the subject Winifred turned her attention back to her own situation. "Gossip, at least, I understand. That has changed very little, it seems," she sighed before giving Robin an appraising look. "I have been meaning to ask, though forgive me is this is a sensitive topic: how did you manage against the Alkahest?" It was the first time Robin had heard her give a specific name to her monstrous form but she'd always been quite deliberate in discussing it as a separate entity. "Hannah and Cathy are capable of making all manner of barriers, as I understand it, and Raina is... resourceful to understate things but I am surprised you were not more gravely injured. Not that I'm not glad you weren't!" she emphasized quickly, green eyes characteristically intense.

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"Uhm, well," Robin seemed suddenly embarrassed, twisting her fingers together in her lap. Sheepishness wasn't an expression that flickered across the girl's features often, but it clouded her grey eyes tonight, "No, no. It's fine. A lot of people have that question. I mean, I never thought I had powers - it's not anything I noticed, really, growing up. I mean, sure, I did well in gymnastics and sports but there wasn't anything crazy..."

She trailed off and then shifted the topics to the present day. Although Robin would offer up information about the Fens, her own family and childhood was a topic she tended to avoid, "Anyhow. I've been, you know, protecting the streets of my neighborhood for the last few years." As Robin was sixteen, that would have to mean she'd started very young indeed, "But I just sort of, learned as I went. The doctor, Dr. Marquez, says that I was 'malnourished and fatigued' when I got here but eating regular meals has let my body catch up to I guess what it's supposed to be. I hit pretty hard and I don't get hurt real easy but I'm not invulnerable. Bullets still imbed in my skin, and all that. So, when I got knocked around, I just got bruised and beaten up but not broken. And really, bruised and bloody is just another Tuesday. It's no biggie, really."

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"Yet you don't know the cause or origin of your greater abilities nor their theoretical upper limits? Fascinating!" Now it clearly was a struggle for Winifred to resist the urge to scramble out of her sheets and snatch up a notepad to start scribbling down new information. She recognized, at least, that Robin was unlikely to enjoy that level of examination. "What you're describing is certainly much closer to the goal of my original serum than I ultimately achieved. Might you have been dosed with something similar, unbeknownst to you at the time? But then to what end? Simply fascinating!"

Catching her roommates expression Winifred cleared her throat and composed herself, rearranging the sheets over her lap. "Hem. Regardless, I strongly object to any attitude that downplays the issues with your being 'knocked around', particularly should that same breath contain the words 'bruised' or 'bloody'. If you're planning on another one of your 'Tuesdays' any time soon I insist you allow me to accompany you and render assistance. It's very much the least I owe you."

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Robin watched, some bemusement flickering across her features before she gave a small wave of her hand, "You can take notes, Fred, s'cool." Robin offered, having grown at least somewhat used to being treated like an interesting experiment as she was told to push things, pick things up and run faster. "Probably not. I mean, unless there's a super serum getting tossed out in the garbage bins behind Ol' Mac's diner."

Robin laughed at the idea and then gave a little shrug of her shoulders, "People need help and I can do it. It was harder when I started but especially now as I get more training here, dodging bullets isn't so bad. See, look." Robin paused then and hiked up her shirt enough to reveal the hard line of her stomach and the clear line of muscles below the skin. Criss crossing her abdomen were faint white lines of old injuries. She pointed to one that was still pink, and said with clear pride, "See, barely nicked the surface. Stopped bleeding pretty fast, too. That guy will think twice before trying to rob some old lady next time I bet. If you wanna come along, sure, you can. Its dangerous though."

The concern in Robin's grey eyes was much less for the monster inside her roommate and far more to do with the fact that the delicate girl seemed like she was ill suited for the rough streets of the Fens.

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Any preconceptions about Winifred's fragile nature were probably not helped by the distinct plum colour that crept into her cheeks as Robin pulled her shirt up over her stomach. Scientific curiosity won out over prudish embarrassment after briefly looking away reflexively but she still raised one hand to the side of her face as though she might need to cover her own eyes. "Ah, yes. Well done, there." Her roommate's attitude toward her collection of scars and the prospect of adding to it was a little troubling but she did seem to have a point in so far as the common ruffians she challenged posed little true threat to her. She opened her mouth inquire about the specific amount of time it had taken for the wound to close and instead found herself remarking, "I didn't realize the muscles of the abdomen could even become so well defined. Lord." Coughing with a renewed blush, she turned her gave studiously to their ceiling. "Ah, regardless! I can more than take care of myself, I assure you, certainly without relying on my... ailment."

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"What? Oh, yeah. It's from gymnastics," Robin said, glancing down at the stomach in question before she let her shirt drop once more. She offered Fred a small smile, "I didn't mean to embarrass you or anything. Sorry, I know we're probably a lot different than the stuff you're used to. What's okay in public has changed a crazy amount over time. But, yeah, it's because I work out a whole lot and have very low body fat. I sink like a stone in water too - muscle density and all that. But as to my 'powers', no one really knows what they're from and none of the tests they've tried make them go anywhere. I mean, they stick me in various circles and have me push things in the gym. And then someone frowns at their clipboard and scribbles something down. I think they just started with 'most common super hero origins' and are working their way down the list. So, I dunno what caused it or how long its been. Archer thinks that its probably been since I was pretty young since I didn't 'get a bullet through the brain pain like some idiot with a death wish'."

Robin's Archer impression was relatively accurate, dropping her voice into a gravelly sort of pitch. Perhaps a little too much squinting for true realisms sake but it added comic value. "I'm not so worried about your 'ailment', just not getting you stabbed or shot at. I am not really the best at avoiding trouble but I'm sure we can manage sometime. You really don't owe me for anything, though. I mean, we're friends."

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"Certainly different from what I'm used to, yes," Winifred agreed, placing her hands over her own stomach and shooting Robin a wry look. Her roommate was only just barely taller than her but even without taking into account whatever unusual properties granted Robin her superhuman durability and strength she would have assumed the other girl to be a good twenty or more pounds of pure muscle heavier. "Neither, though, am I made of porcelain. I managed well enough as a young, 'exotic' woman on the streets of London, I'm sure I can do much the same in the here and now. I certainly won't adapt any more quickly by hiding away in ivory towers." It hadn't taken her long to deduce that Claremont Academy taken alone was perhaps not the clearest representation of the modern world as a whole. "'Owe' may be the wrong word but friendship does go in two directions. You've already said I may accompany you and I'll not be talked out of it." She raised her hands from her stomach to fold her arms, giving Robin a determined nod.

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Robin gave a small shrug, her lips quirking up into a wry smile, "Clearly, I should start offering tours. Riley wants to come see my stomping grounds and two of the other girls followed me back one of the first weekends." Or perhaps her new friends were less cavalier about their buddy getting shot or stabbed than Robin was about her own safety. She reached up to tighten her headband, shoving the errant corkscrew curls back from her features with the gesture. "Are you going to be allowed to head off campus, do you think, or will we be smuggling you out. Actually, I think we're starting to get pretty good at slipping on and off campus without getting caught. Between all of us, I think we've got a good idea where the holes in the security are."

That was said with no small amount of pride in the gang of ruffians that Robin was starting to call friends. "Okay, okay. You're a badass in your own right. I won't try to keep you swaddled up," Robin agreed with a warm grin, "Well, maybe just a little swaddled. I'd rather people made with the punching at my face instead of yours in general."

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Rather than questioning that particularly colourful turn of phrase Winifred chose to believe that being a 'badass' was a compliment, unintuitive though it was. "I've been told repeatedly that I am not a prisoner but a guest," she answered drying, resting her chin in her palm and turning her eyes upward, "with numerous enough caveats to bring the truth of that sentiment into question. Still, I think so long as someone sufficiently capable accompanies me there should be few enough objections. Nor would any objections persuade me to renege on an offer of assistance, so! The matter seems settled to my reasoning." She sniffed haughtily, belying some of her actual concerns. She certainly didn't think she could afford to upset her benefactors at the Academy too severely but she also wasn't going to be kept like a test subject.

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"Sure, I don't think they'd keep you here. They want us to feel like we can trust them," Robin said, the words more astute than most would assume. "I mean, there's enough 'gentle encouraging talks' from advisors that I could just scream. I've heard that tone of voice before," that last was added with clear distaste. Robin's social workers had been well meaning but burdened with an over-encumbered system and limited with their resources. Still, at thirteen, they'd been one of the few targets to fix her impotent upset and anger on and that carried forward to this day. Robin gave a slight restless shake of her shoulders, repressing the emotion quickly enough. "Riley's been wanting to see where I come from too so we can make a trip of it. I wouldn't say it'll be fun. I mean, it's not a nice part of town and we'll just day trip it. I mean, Riley'd probably not be too flapped about sleeping on a rooftop but it takes some getting used to. I almost rolled off more than a few times when I first was figuring it out. Scared me right awake."

Robin laughed then, like the memory of almost falling to her death in her sleep was an amusing one. 

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Winifred looked skeptical of the anecdote's hilarious nature, pulling her knees toward herself under her bed sheets. "Best let us avoid spending the night, then, yes," she agreed dryly, frankly wondering how Robin's survival up to that point hadn't made the presence of superhuman resilience obvious long before. She resolved to keep a closer eye on her roommate's well being; someone obviously had to do so.

She mulled over the discussion of the Academy's well-intentioned counselors a little longer. "It's a little difficult for me to parse what might be platitude," the Victorian admitted reluctantly. "The idioms and manners take enough getting used to but things that strike me as fanciful over-promising seem to often turn out to be matter-of-course, particularly given what I gather is an unusually broad array of resources and shall we say skill sets among the staff and benefactors. It's unpleasant to feel... inexperienced in that manner. Of what would you suggest I be wary?"

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"Hmm," Robin paused, relaxing back on her hands as she tried to decide how to parse her own experiences and make them relatable to Fred's conversations, "I would say trusting your instincts is still pretty sound. I mean, I know the terminology is different but I think you probably know the expression that people make when they just feel bad for you, or when they think you're an idiot. My history is pretty rotten but I know that a hundred and fifty years ago lady-scientists got a lot of the 'that's nice' expression when they were actually right. There's a lot that's better but that expression probably looks pretty much the same."

Robin gave a small shrug of her shoulders, "But you're really smart. I think you'll probably pick it up faster than you give yourself credit for. You can always ask me if you're not sure and I'll give my best guess as to what's going on or what any of it means. Slang and idioms, those I have down. The rest... ehhh." Robin gave a little shake of one hand to show her grasp of formal schooling.

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"This is true," Winifred conceded with a sigh. "It may simply be too tempting to make excuses for myself attributed to circumstance. I'm not usually one for such rationalizations. My father--" She stopped short abruptly from finishing that thought, quickly turning her head away from Robin while her shoulders rose and tightened toward her neck. She opened her mouth to make an attempt to change the subject but nothing but a quiet rasp emerged and she quickly shut her mouth again with an audible click of teeth. She pulled the sheets more tightly around her legs and her roommate could hear her taking slow, deliberately even breaths to compose herself.

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Robin's grey eyes darkened, although not with the fear that most sane people probably would have displayed. But then, Robin's sense of self preservation had already been a conversation point. She stood up from her bed and crossed over to Winifred's side to ease down next to her in companionable silence. The springs creaked slightly under Robin's weight with the bed shifting. Waiting until the breathing had slowed to a more measured pace, Robin finally broke the silence.

 

"It doesn't real get better but it stops catching you off guard after a couple of weeks. Shifts from a sharp, startling pain into more of a dull ache." Robin offered, her voice very gentle, "It's sort of like... carrying a weight around. You've always got it with you but the muscles you use just sort of get used to the added burden. They always say that the talking makes it better but I haven't actually found that to be true."

 

Robin blinked those sad, grey eyes once and offered, her voice still quiet, "Do you want me to get you some water?"

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